#MakeSchoolDifferent: Five things we have to stop pretending

Last week (I think) I was challenged by Aviva Dunsiger to think about my five things that we have to stop pretending in education (You can read her post here: http://adunsiger.com/2015/04/21/makeschooldifferent-what-we-need-to-stop-pretending/).

I am finally getting around to writing it.  These are in no particular order.

1) That differentiating for each student is not possible:

I know that this may seem like a pipe dream statement but I think that as teachers we need to think about each of our students in the classroom. I know that we do but we truly need to think about how we can teach to each student and meet the needs of each student. Fosnot makes a great statement in one of her books, “[Teaching and learning are often seen as synonymous words and ideals but] without learning there is no teaching.”  This statement has made we really think about how I am meeting the need of my students. It has made me think about the philosophies, strategies and assessments that I use in order to teach. Not every student is the same, so why is our teaching styles?

2) That students are vessels in which we impart our knowledge to:

I know that this is a very hot topic but to be honest most if not all people learn not from listening but from a combination of listening and doing.  I love this picture from Syliva Duckworth.

I know that we need to have some knowledge given in order to move forward but to be honest we need to give credit to our kids that they know a lot of things and can solve many problems we through at them.  As a teacher we need to find that balance between saying enough and allowing our students to explore, to muddle through and figure things out on their own. Learning is so much richer when this is accomplished.
3. That a test is the only way in which to assess students knowledge:
For centuries, students have gone to school, sat in desks, listened to teachers and then regurgitated information on a sheet of paper to show their understanding.  But is this the best way to understand our students learning? Is this a true test of their abilities? Is this really making them learn? or is it making the cram for a bit and then forget?  The true nature of a test shows you what a student understand at the particular moment in time. There is a purpose for it but I personally don’t think that it is the end all to be all like it is being used today. In all honesty I don’t think a test should be used at all. I think that teachers need to and should move into learning portfolios and project based learning. We need to have more conversations and observations of our students and communicate that as a grade. This is again is actually a lot harder then giving a test. Teachers need to know their content matter, curriculum and have a really good assessment strategies in place. Their needs to be clear communication and more communication with parents and students, but in the end this type of assessment is a lot richer. 
4. Parents don’t care about their children’s education: 
I hear this a lot in education, “Our parents just don’t care about their child’s education.”  I know that their might be some parents who may feel this way but deep down inside I would say that all parents want their children to succeed and all parents do care about what is happening in the classroom. The problem is that they may think that the only time to contact teachers is when their is a problem, when you contact them or during parent interviews. Why? because that is exactly what happened when they when to school. For the longest time and still today, the classroom is this mysterious place. Its like the Bermuda triangle. Kids go in and come out but no one knows what happens inside. The only communication parents have is what their kids say. If their kids come home happy or say nothing is wrong then parents don’t question it. We also have to keep in mind that it is really hard to raise kids today and many parents work various hours in order to support their children and household. It may be more that they can’t care because they actually can’t or more don’t have time. However, when kids come home excited to learn and excited about your classroom I will guarantee that parents will take notice.  We as teachers need to do more to open our classroom up and bring in parents; excite them to be a part of the community. 
5. That we don’t need to teach diversity and inclusion: 

This last one is an important one as it is something that I have been dealing with personally this last week. I teach my children about diversity and inclusion. I teach my children all about the ism’s, everyone of them. I teach my children that we need to love one another, allow others to have opinions and honour those opinions; whether you agree with them or not. I teach my children that just because some one is different then you (whether religion, believes, physically or racially) you do not discriminate, you do not hate and you do not make public comments about it. You may at home believe many different things but in the classroom and out in the world we need to be tolerant, loving and accepting. I teach these things because I want to make sure our world is loving and peaceful. I don’t want wars, I don’t want hate. However, I am constantly reminded and moreso this week then ever, that this needs to be done more in the classrooms. I feel this because this week I have seen close friends bombarded by hatred and slander because people don’t believe the same thing as they do. I have seen people lash out at me because I stand up for anyone who is being discriminated against.  Unfortunately it is never the children we teach but one day those children will become adults and I want to make sure that they know that hatred is hatred. That even though you may not believe or think the same as the person next to you, when you make that comment or thought public you are crossing a human rights line. That you are perpetuating further war and hurt. No one has the right to judge as we ourselves are not perfect. It is okay to have differing opinions and believes but there always needs to be discernment and tolerance in what we say and do.

Again these are my thoughts and observations about teaching. They are always up for discussion and I would love to here your thoughts on how we can make school different.

I am now calling on:

Betsy Callanan

Jay Wigmoore

Roland Chidiac

Matthew Oldridge

Michelle Cordy

If they have not done so.  Of course I would also love to hear from anyone and their amazing ideas.

Why it’s important to teach diversity and inclusion

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

I was talking to a colleague about diversity and teaching the isms and she directed me to an article in lifesite magazine that was recently written about a fellow teacher. The headlines read, “Lesbian Teacher: How I convince kids to accept Gay ‘Marriage’, starting at 4 years old.” I was appalled that this was ever written. I would also recommend that you do not read the article as this sleazy type journalism and to be frank appalling comments is not worth the read.  I also don’t want to give more power to the writer through amount of views.  The funny thing was that the presentation had nothing to do about this title and all about teaching children about inclusion and love.
I want to first state that I am proud to teach about all the ism’s including hetersexism. I also want to say that I am not Gay and am religious but to me it is about the message of “love”, about understanding, about being human. I was raised to love people for who they are inside and not by their skin colour, their thoughts or life choices but for who they are as people. This is the message that I as a teacher preach. This is the message that I as an educator tell my students. This is the message as a human that I tell my own children.
What has gotten me so steamed and upset is that people in this world are allowed to write comments like this. That this type of prejudice is still active in today’s so called 21st century world. We don’t debate slavery, we don’t debate racial slurs, we don’t debate making fun of someone for being disable but its okay to say these hateful comments about a community. To me that is the very definition of discrimination. 
So why do I teach diversity because I don’t want my children growing up in a world of hate. I don’t want my children fearing for their life because of war and rumour or war. Because I want my children to love everyone and to be able to work with everyone. 
In my experience as an educator children do not hate. Yes they question and yes they inquire but they never hate. It is us as adults that show kids how to hate. We are the models that our children follow. We are the examples that they see every day of their life. How do you want your children to act? How do you want them to behave? If the expectation is to love one another, then we need to start leading by example. 
These types of articles, comments and ideas are quite frankly archaic and bigotry. The ignorance that follows is even more disturbing. We have always been told, “Don’t judge a book by its cover” or “Treat others as you would want to be treated.” So how are these comments and ideas helping? They aren’t. 
This world is already a dark and disturbing place. I fear for my own children and those that I teach for what they will have to endure in their life time. Because of these fears I try hard every day to change the future generation. Not to rebel against their parents and religion but to think, to love and to understand. Our children our the future but we are who they look up to. 
How will you make a difference in this world? How will you be the change you want to see in your children? It starts with you. Thank you for listening and reading this post.

Blog Hop: Digital Learning in Math

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

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

That being said:

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

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

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

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

Graham Whisen

Shivonne Lewis-young

Jay Wigmore

Don Campbell

Jason Richea

Tina Zita

Phil Young

Making kids doers of math instead of Doing math!

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

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

I then came across this statement by Fosnot:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Role of the teacher

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

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

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

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

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

Creating an environment of learning

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

Making kids accountable:

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

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

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

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

Teaching Diversity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So how do we do this: 

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

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

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