My own developmental learning today

For those that know me, or talked to me for any length of time know that I am pro inquiry and pro contextual learning.  I can get very researchy (yes I did just use that word) but in essence it is because I know that it helps and improves a wide range of students.  It gives as many students as possible the ability to learn at their pace, no matter what that pace is, while still teaching a whole class.  Well today I experienced that learning for myself.

Today, we completed our first E-book using book creator (@bookcreatorapp).  This lesson was one of the most rewarding experiences ever, if you ever get a chance try doing a book like this.  Anyways, back to my learning, it all started with me trying to share this wonderful book with my parents.  The app allows you to put it in ibook, or PDF.  It is quite simple, all you do is push a button, but for some reason it was not working.  Well I ended up tweeting it out and @bookcreator sent me a tweet back with a how to tutorial, which help immensely.  It was like that perfect question, at the perfect time that created this “aha” moment for myself.  Before this I was in a state of disequilibrium, where I was getting frustrated but yet still trying things.  I was asking questions, going back to my own prior knowledge, however, I still needed one critical piece of information to move forward. 

Has this ever happened to you?  How about when you are teaching?  I know that when I am teaching through inquiry, I try to plan these critical questions and think ahead for potential problems.  I let my students be in that state of disequilibrium because it is an important state to be in.  Without it I would not have been able to retain the information given.  If I was given the tutorial ahead of time I would have just followed it and then done the work; however, if I had to teach it or do it again I wouldn’t know what to do.  Now that I have struggled through it and was given help at floundering stations I was able to retain the information.  In addition, it also shows that learning happens best in a community.  Learning is not in isolation and is created in a variety of ways.  Students learn as a community too.  We work through problems, help each other out and the learning grows from problem to problem.  At the beginning students may not know as much but by the end they are all pretty close in their understanding. 

As I look back at my experience today it just shows you that their is a lot that needs to happen for real learning to happen. Community, context, critically placed questions, a state of disequilibrium and help a long the way all contribute to this learning. Would love to hear how you create all of these things in your classroom? 

Tired of the excuse "I’m not good at math"

I think I have ranted about this before, if not in a blog, definitely in person.  Why is it okay to say “I am not good at math”. The most recent occurance happened today.  I was at a local grocery store when I brought up three items for price match.  The three items were on sale 3 for 5 dollars.  The cashier (who was not a young person, not that age matters in this) said “that is $1.20 each right? Sorry I am not good at math.”  My reply was no it’s 1.66, actually 1.66666666666, so one of them will be 1.67. She look at me confused and punched it in anyways.  

The reason why I have a problem with this is, do people walk around and say “I can’t write, or read”. No their embarrassed.  I know this personally because I do have a hard time writing.  Words, grammar (as some may attest when reading this), punctuation and overall language is hard for me. But I don’t say that it’s okay for me to not be able to write.  I have done numerous writing course, read books on how to improve and I keep on writing (as bad as it may be). Why, because I know that it takes time and practise to become better.
This brings me to another conversation that I have had with a friend.  “Teachers don’t teach math facts, so kids fail math.”  He continued to say, ” when I was in school we practised and practised and I knew them”. You may ask how is this related, well if practising facts was all it took then this cashier would have remembered that 3 goes into five only once and that with two left over that is 2/3, which converts to .666666666. But did she, no, why because math facts or math In general doesn’t happen in isolation.  Instead like any learning it happens in context and develops over time.
I am not saying that students should not learn facts but gone are the days of flash cards and mad minutes.  Practising facts should be done but through a way that promotes contextual use of numbers, much like how I solved it a moment ago.  Break numbers apart, play with them, change them to make sense.  Math is a beautiful thing and we often constrain our students to think that it has to be done a certain way or by a certain procedure.  Students need time to explore, build understanding and move along a continuum of understanding.
So as I end my rant, how do you teach math?  What strategies do you employ to help with facts? And how do you find a balance between content and context?  Love to hear your thoughts.

Being a connected Educator

Being a connected educator started for me one year ago.  It all started with a colleague of mine trying twitter for homework purposes.  I always wanted to try this and needed a push to do it.  This was my push and I am thankful for it.  Of course when I started out i just creeped a little, retweeted a couple of things and then started posting ideas and thoughts.  I finally found some great chats and learned a lot of that has changed many of my views on education.  However, it wasn’t until this year and two experiences in particular that i would say I became a connected educator.

The first experience is meeting an amazing teacher.  Now when I say meet I mean online and through her posts.  I haven’t actually met her in person, though I can’t wait for that to happen (if it ever does).  The person I am referring to is Aviva Dunsinger @avivaloca.  By connecting to her blog and talking to her on twitter, emails and storify she has changed many of my views and thinking on teaching.  Because of her I have been more connected to my parents, learned more about inquiry and have struggled a little less in my transition to grade two from grade four.  Now some of you may say, how is this different from meeting great educators in person.  I would saying nothing; however, without twitter I would never have met Aviva.  We may never have talked and our paths may never have crossed.  This story is the same for many of the amazing people I have met on Twitter,who without it I never would have talked too.

My second experience is something that I am really proud about and has just recently happened.  It all started with a post from Angela Moses @Motechchef, another great educator.  She posted that she was having her kids rewrite the story of How the Grinch Stole Christmas from the Grinch’s point of view.  I thought this was an amazing idea and so did another educator Carol McLaughlin.  Somehow after talking to the two of them we decided to collaborate together and have our three classes write the book together.  So even though we were separated by many kilometers (or miles) and time zones our classes were connected.  This would never have been possible without twitter. 

For this project Angela created a google doc to record our thinking.  You can also read her blog post here: You can also see our discussion here:  Carol created a great graphic organizer to help the students understand the Grinch’s feelings and I created a dropbox account for us to share pics and other things.

However, our learning hasn’t stopped at making a story.  We have been posting pictures between classes.  Carol and my class have been blogging and I will be skyping  with Angela’s class later next week.  The kids through twitter have been sharing their amazing ideas and have pushed each others thinking beyond the twenty or so in the classroom.  Not only this but they have been so engaged because of this collaboration.

So I ask you how have you been a connected educator?  Who do you think has helped you on your way?  Anyone that is great person to talk to, collaborate with or follow?