Instructional Leader

Posts related to effective use of technology in teaching and learning.

The Future of Math Education

Lately I have been asking the question, “What is  math education going to look like in the future?” As of right now, I don’t have a clear picture and I’m fairly optimistic that significant changes will not take place in the near future. While I frequently hear from teachers (not all) that math requires students to practice learning the steps to solving problems that will lead them to being able to apply their learning afterwards. It seems to me that they are saying that the traditional lecture, in class practice, and homework practice is the way that it has to be.

“If we taught dancing like we teach math we’d never let people dance until they drew out all steps on paper.” Seymour Papert (From Gary Stager’s TEDxASB talk)

On the other hand I’m hearing from others that math education has to change. Forget the flipped classroom and Khan Academy, they’re talking about substantial changes. What are they?

Dan Meyer’s 2010 TED Talk, “Math class needs a makeover”, certainly got people thinking about this topic back in 2010.

Since then I’ve been on a quest to search for the future of mathematics. I had a small epiphany at the recent ASB Unplugged Conference when I attended Gary Stager’s workshop, Electrifying Children’s Mathematics. Now I’ve seen Gary speak many times but this was the first time that I participated in one of his hands on workshops. By actually being able to work through the exercises in a constructivist way I was able to make just a little bit of sense out of the possibilities in the math classroom.

Gary started the presentation by showing us that,

“The NCTM Standards state that fifty percent of all mathematics has been invented since World War II. (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 1989) Few if any of these branches of mathematical inquiry have found their way into the K-12 curriculum. This is most unfortunate since topics such as number theory, chaos, topology, cellular automata and fractal geometry may appeal to students unsuccessful in traditional math classes. These new mathematical topics tend to be more contextual, visual, playful and fascinating than adding columns of numbers or factoring quadratic equations. ” (Stager and Cannings, 1998)

We then watched a video of math instruction in an elementary class where the teacher uses Piaget’s theory to help students construct knowledge on concepts. The videos are the work of Constance Kami, Professor of Early Childhood at The University of Alabama at Birmingham. My take-aways from this video are that…

  • students don’t need to know all of the ways to solve a problem. Whatever works for them is sufficient.
  • the refrains from telling the student whether or not their answer is right or wrong. teacher should let the students talk through their methods and to let them work through the problems together. The less teacher involvement, the better.
  • doing endless numbers of problems that you already understand does not do you any good.

We then moved into the hands on portion of the workshop and in a very short amount of time I realized the value of playing with tools and ideas to learn mathematical concepts.

We played with Turtle Art. We were given a simple exercise to get started and then were left to play on our own. The connections to mathematical thinking were easy to make and the results were definitely visual.

We used MicroWorlds to try to figure out a problem that we later learned was unsolvable. Something that is referred to as the 3N + 1 Conjecture, Collatz Conjecture, Ulam Conjecture, and many others. It was amazing how much math we were having to use to struggle through this problem. It was a good learning experience and it’s probably better that we didn’t know that it was unsolvable.

But, my favorite activity had to do with determining values for iTunes radio users’ actions. The work had us tackle computational thinking. Gary was very clear about his views on teaching computational thinking skills.

Computational thinking is useful when modeling a system or complex problem is possible, but the programming is too difficult.

The activity involved assigning values to the following actions.

Photo from About.com from Sam Costello
We also considered when the person just let the song play.

This was a room full of math teachers and I’m pretty sure that none of them had the programming skills to code the algorithms behind these choices. We did struggle with equating a value while thinking about the users’ thinking and how the numbers would be used behind the scenes. Many of our students have no idea of what is taking place behind the scenes when users click on a button. While very few actually have to know how to do the programming, there is definite value to understanding the computational thinking.

So, after the workshop I asked a couple of math teachers if they felt that they learned skills and/or knowledge that they could take back to their classrooms and, the general consensus was, “most definitely”. These were primarily teachers in international schools.

So, what are your thoughts on the future of mathematics?

Jumping on the Innovation in Education Bandwagon

Our school’s leadership team is reading Tony Wagner’s book “Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World” as we grapple with what innovation looks like in schools. (You can follow our discussion on Twitter – #gradedllt) I highly recommend Wagner’s book along with Suzie Boss’s book “Bringing Innovation to School: Empowering Students to Thrive in a Changing World”. It’s extremely easy to find definitions on innovation that we can all agree on. The really difficult step is to change practices to become innovative. I recently attended a conference where the word, “Innovation” was overused and mis-used. I went to one presentation where the presenter was convinced that his school had been innovative by adopting a program that has been around for 40 years. The new program changed their culture but it certainly wasn’t something that was innovative to the world of education.

“Innovation may then be defined as the process of having original ideas and insights that have value, and then implementing them so that they are accepted and used by significant numbers of people. By this definition, a major innovation is one that is so successful that soon after its introduction few people can even remember what life was like before the innovation was introduced.” Rick Miller, President Olin College

“creative problem solving.” She said, “Problem solving without the creative element is not truly innovative.” And creativity that is not applied to real world problems cannot be considered innovation either. Innovation is our lifeblood at P&G—but not just innovation for its own sake. It’s about taking real needs and creating a bridge to a solution.” Ellen Bowman

Our question is, “What is innovation at Graded?”  My thinking has gone in two different directions lately.

  1. What are we doing at Graded that is innovative?
  2. How are we cultivating innovators?

Since our Core Values state, “Learners at Graded strive to be Innovative: They engage in creative and imaginative thinking that enables them to extend their learning in original and insightful ways.”  I’ve been focusing on #2.

Montessori schools have been cultivating innovators for over 100 years.

When you ask someone to list the schools that they consider innovative, how often do Montessori schools make the list?

What do you suppose the founders of Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin; Amazon’s founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos; Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales; Julia Child; and rapper Sean “P. Diddy” Combs all have in common? Gregersen’s research, cited earlier, uncovered an extraordinary commonality among some of the most innovative individuals: they all went to Montessori schools, where they learned through play. (Wagner, pp27-28)

If you consider Wagner’s characteristics of a learning culture that cultivates innovators, you can see why Montessori schools most definitely should be on your list.

  • collaboration
  • multidisciplinary learning
  • thoughtful risk-taking, trial and error
  • creating
  • intrinsic motivation: play, passion, and purpose (Wagner p. 200)

I’m currently a participant in the Deeper Learning MOOC (#DLMOOC) which is organized by High Tech High and supported by a number of organizations. One of which is Expeditionary Learning Schools. I don’t know much about EL Schools other than I have worked with several educators who once were involved in the organization. I’ve frequently heard from them that, “The EL schools organization, and their schools, aren’t what I would call innovative.” If you look at their website you find no mention of innovation in the “Our Approach”section,  yet, it’s easy to argue that EL schools provide students with the type of environment that Wagner has defined.

Maybe a truly innovative school focuses on answering both questions.

“What are we doing that is innovative and how are we cultivating innovators?

How is your school handling Google Glass?

Last week we started our second semester and one of our students created a bit of a stir when he came sporting his Google Glass. Go figure…, there are only 10,000 in the world and he landed one. Several e-mails from teachers were flying back and forth asking if we needed a new policy for Google Glass. Obviously, people are worried about privacy issues and wondering if he is secretly videotaping or photographing them.

Graded Student Sporting Google Glass

Turn the clock back three years ago when our leadership team was discussing whether or not to allow cell phones in the classroom. After months of discussion we came up with the following:

Cellular phones may be used as educational tools with the permission of a classroom teacher. Otherwise, the use of cellular phones on campus is prohibited except for in the student center, cafeteria and hallways during breaks. Unauthorized use of cellular phones will result in the confiscation of the phone and the phone will be delivered to the Assistant Principal.

By the time we went 1 to 1 we realized that a cell phone was just another mobile device for students to use (this is just one example). We’ve all become comfortable with them and they are a regular tool used in our classrooms. So now all of a sudden we’re faced with an alien object that we’re not sure how to handle. We have to take a step back and assess the situation.

Cellular phones may be used as educational tools with the permission of a classroom teacher. Otherwise, the use of cellular phones on campus is prohibited except for in the student center, cafeteria and hallways during breaks. Unauthorized use of cellular phones will result in the confiscation of the phone and the phone will be delivered to the Assistant Principal.

Is it sufficient to delete “Cellular phones”and substitute it with “Mobile and Wearable Devices”? Hopefully mobile device implants are far off in the future.

A quick look at our LARK (Legal, Appropriate, Responsible and Kind) guidelines seems to show that we have policy in place to handle this new toy.

Legal

  • Get permission to record and publish images or video of others.

Appropriate

  • Access media that is focused on learning and is fitting for the academic environment.

Responsible

  • Use cell phones for educational purposes when requested by teachers.

Our director of technology was commenting that he imagined a scenario in the future where students and teachers will be using them with their prescription glasses.. Let’s face it, it won’t be long before prescription lenses are inserted into the frame.

So we have decided to engage the perpetrator in a discussion over how we should deal with this new tool. He is beginning to develop ideas for how they can be used in education. He did say that that they should not be allowed during tests and quizzes. In terms of our current policy, he thinks that they will work but that we will need to change the language. By the way, he’s sharing his feedback on Google Glass with users from around the world and knows that he has created a bit of a commotion at school. Just as we had students participate in our discussions around cellphones, we will include them in these new discussions. We look forward to dealing with this situation in a positive way to that our entire community can learn from it.

What are your schools doing to prepare for this new device?

If you’re interested in learning more about Silvia Tolisano‘s (our Middle School Academic Technology Coordinator) experience with Google Glass she  wrote an excellent piece entitled, First Experiences with Google Glass at School. I highly recommend it.

Jumping Right into Design Thinking – Part 1

Jumping in Pool

I have always been someone who likes using defined processes groups. Probably the most useful workshop that I ever attended was David Langford’s Quality Learning seminar. I have used his tools for problem solving as an individually and with groups for years. For several years now I have been wanting to learn more about design thinking because the concept seems sensible and interesting. Instead of solving problems this focuses on finding solutions by learning about the  stakeholders. So, instead of taking the time to attend a workshop I decided to jump right in and learn by doing. Thankfully, IDEO has a free online toolkit to guide me through the process and my colleagues are game for trying something new.

For several years we have struggled with our annual week long trips in the high school. For one week in September the entire high school travels to four different locations in Brazil. The groups are organized by grade level and there have been two objectives.

To gain a deeper appreciation and knowledge of Brazil – The trips provide students with real life experiences within Brazil. Trips may focus on…

  • exploring various cultural aspects of the respective community.
  • environmental issues in the community.
  • sustainable development and the economic environment in the community.
  • fun activities that are representative of the community.

To develop relationships within our community – The trips are an excellent opportunity for students and teachers to start the year off by learning about each other in a non-classroom setting. In doing so, students and teachers can build an appreciation for others and a respect for differences. Relationship building may occur in the following ways: 

  • team building activities
  • discussion groups focused on objective #1
  • group projects
  • informal dialogue throughout the trip

We have also been working, with mixed success, to link the trips to course curricula. Each year we get mixed reviews from students and teachers and we feel like we just haven’t gotten them right yet. The factor that tipped the scale is that for two years in a row we had a large number of seniors decide to not travel with their classmates. So, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to give the design thinking process a chance.

After reviewing the trips from this year and that past we have defined our challenge, set a timeline and gathered the information that we have on hand.

“Redesign the experiences to make them indispensable and unforgettable so that the mission and core values come to to life.”

We’re now in the research phase where we define exactly what we need to learn from our students and teachers and look for inspiration from various sources. With that information we’ll work in teams to develop prototypes of trips for review. There is still much work to do but we all seem to feel that there are plenty of possibilities for making the trips “indispensable and unforgettable”

I’d love to hear ideas and suggestions from design thinking experts that are out there. We’re definitely going to need support throughout the process.

This photo, “8579 S jumps into pool” By WoofBC under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0, modified slightly from original

My Digital Tattoo: A pleasant surprise

On our recent 10th grade trip to Salvador, Bahia we had students create 6-Word Reflections. In one of our meetings one of the teachers showed examples for the kids to learn from. Imagine my surprise when one of the examples was a 6-word story that I created years ago. It was even before I started working at Graded. It’s was one of those moment, “hey, that’s my photo!” The teacher just happened to find it in her search for examples and she noticed that it was mine. This just goes to show you that you never know when your online work will show up.

 

You can find this one and others at the 6 Word Story Project. http://bengrey.wikispaces.com/6+Word+Story+Project

You can find this one and others at the 6 Word Story Project. http://bengrey.wikispaces.com/6+Word+Story+Project

 

1:1 in the Classroom: Learning to become mindful

From The Church of Facebook by Jesse Rice.

While our middle school has been 1:1 for 3 1/2 years last year was our first in the high school. The roll-out went smoothly and students and teachers settled into the new environment with very few issues. I will admit that I would occasionally hear teachers complain about students being distracted and off task while on the computer.  Often I hear 1:1 advocates respond to this issue with, “If the learning activities in a 1:1 environment don’t change, the students will lose interest and become distracted.  Students can’t just use the laptops for note taking in lectures.” This was certainly not the case with many of our classrooms. I took the grumbling seriously since it was coming from educators who I respected. I’d seen other classrooms where the laptops were only being used for taking notes during lectures and these settings were ripe for off task behavior, but this was not the case.

At this same time I noticed a change in my habits and behaviors online. I was having trouble focusing and I was spending way too much time sorting through e-mail. One example is that I’d open and e-mail, click on a link, return to my e-mail waiting for the link to load and keep moving on. Before long I had 20 tabs open and I hadn’t really focused on any of the resources. As I work on this post I frequently find myself yearning to check my e-mail. Sure, I’ve read Nicholas Carr’s, The Shallows: What the internet is doing to our brains (which Rheingold  so I was aware of how technology was changing the way my brain works, but I my mind was slowly changing. This is the exact issue that our students face when it comes to the internet and distractions.

Pamela Livingston’s in her post 1:1 in the Classroom – Digital Distraction gives teachers practical tips for dealing with this issue in the classroom.  I’d like to also suggest the ideas that Howard Rheingold offers in NetSmart: How to thrive online. While Rheingold is an avid user of the net and a staunch supporter of technology, he promotes the skills and habits of “mindfulness” which is one area of his concept of  “Infotention”.  In the book, Rheingold quotes Maggie Jackson, author of Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming of Dark Age.  Jackson states, “If focus skills can be groomed, as research has begun to hint, the important next question is whether, and how, attention should be integrated into education. Will attention become a 21st-century ‘discipline’, a skill taught by parents, educators, even employers?” I believe that we do have to teach these skills in our classrooms. Rheingold offers the following strategies for becoming mindful, and paying attention.

  1. Meditation
  2. Plan blocks of uninterrupted time to focus on a task.
  3. Creating short-term goals and focus on meeting those within defined periods.
  4. Practice working on a single task for 15 – 20 minutes at a time.
  5. Create a diary of your online behaviors to be used to reflect on habits.

These ideas can certainly be incorporated in the classroom and Rheingold also has examples of what he does in his classes. For those of you who would like to learn more about these I ideas I encourage you to read Net Smart. I believe that we owe it to ourselves and our students to become more cognizant of how the internet is changing our lives and habits.

I’m alive and well professionally but my blog has been dormant

Graded High School Blog

The 2012 – 13 school year has been a fantastic one for me professionally. You wouldn’t know if from looking at my blog. The main reason that Creative Tension has been dormant is that I have been focused on curating the Graded High School Blog this entire year. I’m pleased to announce that we had 103 posts and over 11,500 hits. While our primary audience is the Graded community, the Graded stories reached a worldwide audience. The concept is that the HS Blog is “where the Graded high school community shares information and ideas on education.” This has been an excellent first step to creating a venue for members of the community to share stories about learning at Graded. With the school year over it’s an excellent archive for school community members to look back on the year.

While we also have the traditional weekly newsletter that is sent out to parents each week this blog has received more viewers, given community members the chance to comment and develop a dialogue, provided the community with timely information, and opened up our school to a more global community. We have tried to limit the number of posts that are just informational in terms of upcoming events and instead tried to focus on student and teacher learning. I look forward to building on what has been done this year and improving in the following ways.

  1. Increase the number of authors. Aside from my posts, there were a handful of others who contributed during the year. I hope that we can create a culture where teachers, students and parents will contribute whenever something happens. By reminding community members that the posts don’t have to be lengthy and that they can include photos, text, audio and videos I hope that we can increase authorship. While I’ve spent a considerable amount of time curating this blog, I look forward to it becoming a place where the community shares stories.
  2. Increase the number of comments that readers contribute. Aside from a somewhat controversial post on the changes to our grade weighting policy (6) and a post asking students to comment on a draft of our self-study Executive Summary (14), there were very few comments submitted. Hopefully we’ll continue encouraging people to comment and it may require more provocative topics.
  3. Increase viewership – I’ve been promoting the blog through e-mails to the community, links in our weekly newsletter, announcements at meetings, and Facebook and Twitter announcements. Hopefully it will help to increase the number of subscribers so that they get announcements whenever new posts are made. We have a ways to go to catch our the Talonline Blog that is student focused. They have had over 78,000 views.

Image from Flickr by martin.canchola

It’s now time for me to get back to blogging and sharing the learning that I’ve been doing throughout the year. It’s certainly been a productive one for me.

As educators, we can learn from the Jeremy Lin story

Jeremy Lin on the cover of GQ Magazine

I have been wanting to write this post since I read this New York Times article, entitled, “The Evolution of a Point Guard” in February. Now that I have some time over the holidays I’m able to finish this post up. The article describes the 18 month transformation of Jeremy Lin. Since then Lin signed a 3-year, $25 million contract with the Houston Rockets. This makes his story even more legendary. As an educator, I find the story to be inspirational.   The article by Howard Beck explains how Jeremy Lin went from being undrafted and cut twice in two weeks to an NBA superstar. Over 18 months and hundreds of hours working with assistant coaches, Jeremy Lin, reworked his jump shot, bulked up his body, strengthened his legs and developed a “sharper view” of the court. He did this through deliberative practice and hard work.

Howard states, “What scouts saw in the spring of 2010 was a smart passer with a flawed jump shot and a thin frame, who might not have the strength and athleticism to defend, create his own shot or finish at the rim in the N.B.A.”  While the article highlights his “perseverance, hard work and self-belief”, I was inspired by the entire story because it was a team approach. Lin was certainly dedicated but without the help and support of coaches and trainers, his success would not have been possible. For me there were three important takeaways.

1. Recognizing the potential in each student - Coaches along the way recognized that Jeremy had the potential to be a talented player in the NBA. Lin was known for getting into the paint off the drive and being able to see the floor well. These were two key skills that are essential for point guards and the coaches felt that he could build upon these areas of strength.

2. Clearly identifying the skills, knowledge and attributes that students need to improve on – For Lin, he and his coaches determined that his real issues came from not being strong enough to maintain balance and direction and he lacked the strength to explode and raise up into the air when getting into the lane; his ability to shoot the outside jump shot; and his ability to read different situations and then deliver the correct pass. It was in these areas that Lin spent hours on the court, and in the weight and film rooms working on. He was deliberate in his approach to improving and the coaches helped him monitor his performance along the way.

3. Finding the right people and/or resources to support individual students –  Lin worked with several NBA coaches and each one had their specialty areas. He found a Bay area high school coach to help him with his shooting and he sought out strength coaches to help him develop the right types of muscle mass. There wasn’t one individual who helped him develop in all of these areas. He relied on specialists who had access to the appropriate knowledge, expertise, and resources.

When these three things happen the results can certainly be powerful and transformational for all parties involved.

What ideas do you have for engaging the school community in the discussions on learning?

This year I’ve embarked on a project to promote the work of our teachers and students through the Graded High School Blog. The blog was inspired by Patrick Larkin’s Learning in Burlington  and George Couros’s work with the 184 Days of Learning in Parkland Schools. The blog is designed for the Graded high school community to share information and ideas on education. To date, the blog has 5,717 hits which is more than the total number of hits that the high school articles in our weekly Gazette have gotten. It’s an excellent start to sharing learning with our community. It has not been a place where members of our community have engaged in dialogue. Aside from the What’s our stance on weighted grades? (a total of 6 comments) post there have been very few comments. The challenge now is to increase engagement so that teachers, students, and parents use the tool for online communication.

Anyone have examples of school blogs where the community is actively participating in the discussion? If so, I’d love to see them. Also, what ideas do you have for increasing community participation?

Seth Godin Keeps Me Blogging

I have always been an infrequent blogger, but this past year I’ve been pathetic about sharing my thoughts. It’s sad because I know that my blog posts are an important part of my learning. As Seth states, “the humility that comes from writing it. What matters is the meta cognition of thinking about what you’re going to say.” While it’s always nice when someone comments on a post, I stopped worrying about that a long time ago. Over the years I’ve come to realize the importance of organizing my thoughts and ideas into these posts. It took me awhile but I now understand how valuable it is for me to share my ideas with a wider audience and to expose myself. It may seem like a bit of a risk, but I think that the benefits outweigh the potential negative consequences. As a school leader I think that it’s important for me to model this type of learning.

I write this as I begin to prepare for a workshop on how leaders can use social media to promote learning in their school communities. The workshop is part of the Innovate 2013 Conference. I’m going to be promoting blogging even if you’re not one of the Edublog Award Winners. I’m going to share this short video from Seth Godin and Tom Peters at the session. In my dreams I keep thinking that I’ll get better at blogging so that others will see it, but in reality, that may not happen.