Using coding to teach mathematics

I have been a proponent of coding for quite some time. I feel that it will be a skill that students need in the future. I know that this may cause some stir in many of you but here is my reasons:

1) Though I do agree with who knows what the future may hold, I do believe that this is a skill all kids will need. At one point in time no one knew how to read. In fact it was only geared to the clergy because they had to read the bible. Now that skill is in every classroom. We may not be there yet but I think we are very close. Coding is a part of everything that we do and our everyday. I think that it is important to know how things operate. Yes that does mean changing our oil and fixing our cars. We may not have the time but I think as adults these are important skills. Students now should learn about how their electronics work. How do we make them do what we want to do? I am not saying that all of them will become computer programers but we should understand the basics.

2) Coding does more then just teach programming skills. Students learn critical thinking, problem solving, and being creative. As students try and code they learn to research, ask questions and work through till they get a solution

3) Most kids if not all, love to code. Now I say this with a side note. I do find that when the task is meaningless then some kids are not as engaged with coding but if they are creating something and the right differentiation is in place then they are all in. To be honest you can say this with most ideas but it does apply here.

4) Coding teaches logical order and research skills. I don’t have numbers yet but the more that I have done coding the more that I have noticed my students critical thinking and sequencing skills improve. I have noticed my students improve in making connections and seeing how all the big ideas link together. Again I cannot say this is all coding but I believe that this is a major reason. 

For me coding fits naturally with mathematics. I mean the main idea of spatial sense is right in our curriculum. However, that is not the only area you can use it for.

Today I thought of turning a quite boring lesson of order of operations into a coding exercise.  It was really cool to see the students take a foundational lesson and a very procedural lesson and apply some creative and problem solving skills.

The challenge was to create an app that can test students understanding of order of operations. Students had to also have their users think about misconceptions and possible errors.

Here is what the code looked like for most:

The students still need more time but here is the sample that we have been working on, link. 

//scratch.mit.edu/projects/embed/104333621/?autostart=false

Throughout this process the main purpose was not to teach coding but to understand the basic idea around order of operation. Sure I could have just told them the answer but they have now started to work through the procedure and how students can make mistakes. I hope that when we debrief they will forever have an understanding of order of operation.

This is just one example of how coding can fit into our everyday math lessons. The main focus should always be the concept and idea of math and then the tool. By teaching this way I have allowed my students to explore order of operation and to critically think about the concept.

I encourage you to try coding in your math classroom

Is our job as a teacher obsolete?

I know that the title may be a little disturbing but it did catch your attention?

When I ask this question I gt a varying degree of answers and it is because of these answers that I have decided to write this post.
Lately I have been thinking a great deal about the role of a teacher and the role we play in the grand scheme of learning. Putting aside various fees on teaching pedagogy I think we can all agree that teaching is currently undergoing a dramatic change in its profession. I think that we can also agree that knowledge is no longer obtained the same ways in which we use to obtain it and it is very rapidly changing. It seems that every second there is some new break through in technology or some new scientific break through.  So if this is the case should our teaching change to reflect this?

This actual idea started with a post from my good friend Brian Aspinall

Catch the whole conversation here: https://twitter.com/mraspinall/status/599915516254236672.
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This started a chain reaction and conversation that was truly amazing to be a part of. There was two main parts to this conversation. The role of a teacher and 2) creating and sustaining this change.

The Role of the Teacher

The bases was that teaching has not changed, our role continues to educate and motivate students to learn but what has and should be changing is how. Now this may stir some to stand up and revolt about what I am saying but I truly believe that the teaching profession needs to change their methods or we will become obsolete. 

I think this for three main reasons: 1) With the ever increasing access to information students can obtain anything in manner of seconds. Its as easy as saying, “Siri, whats the population of China?” Presto you have that information. The problem lies in how do we assess which information we need and what is true. This is critically thinking. This is the skill that needs to be taught. However, we often find classrooms a place of regurgitation of information that is outdated the moment we learn it.  Now please don’t get me wrong, facts are important to learn, basic skills are needed and yes memorizing is important too but all of this can be learned at the same time as critically thinking and evaluating information. 2) Learning is happening whether we like it or not. Now this is not a new phenomenon but I do find a lot more students are taking to youtube, books, and other information to learn about topics that interest them. My own five year old daughter knows how to youtube minecraft in order to figure out how to do something in the game. If we are not careful in our teaching soon students may soon see school as an obsolete place.  3) My final reason is that I am ever depressed to see that school itself has not really changed since its inception. What I mean by this is schools, physical space and mental space. We can still walk into a school and it looks the exact same way it did in 1880’s. Yes materials, tools, and colour has changed by the premise of school hasn’t. Kids sit in rows or even groups, they walk in straight orderly lines, we go to school 8-3, Sept to June, its endless at the similarities between the eras. But with the rapid changing world this needs to change.

If we are going to make this shift then as a teacher our role needs to change. No longer am I the wise person who stands before the classroom to impart all of my wisdom in one fell swoop, no longer am I the end all to be all for information and no longer am I the one to start, initiate and carry the conversations. These areas fall on the students.  However, I am the one to plan rich and engaging lessons, I am the one who anticipates the majority of work and possible answers, I am the one who is constantly walking around my classroom, inspecting students thinking, strategies and work samples. I am the one that is assessing as I work, thinking about next steps, where students are and what I need to do to make that happen. I am also the one that plans purposeful questions and comments that at the right moment can make many students go “Aha.”  I am also the one that if I recognize real struggle that I differentiated for them but only when they need it.

In addition, school shouldn’t be this archaic place of learning. Space needs to be reinvented, times and timetabling needs to be more flexible. We need to go back to a place of learning.

Creating and Sustaining


This last part is the one I am currently struggling with. It is very easy to get discouraged by how slow progress seems to be going.  We have often debated, the time factor, the money factor, the willingness to learn but to me these just seem like excuses as to why something is failing. They are all factors in they why but I think that instead of focusing on the why we should be asking how do we support this change?

What do we need to do to allow fellow teachers to grasp, understand, implement and then affect change in others?

What is missing that isn’t done already?

or How can we change what we are doing already in order to affect this change?

I don’t think this is a simple answer but I do think that it needs to happen faster than it is currently. Our students are embarking into a world that rapidly changing, information that use to last us a life time is no longer lasting these students more then a year. We need to change our teaching methods, strategies in order to meet this. Then again, this is only my opinion, would love to hear yours.

Coding and Math

Coding has been a hot topic in education lately and rightly so. It is an important subject. I was recently talking to a friend of mine who has to learn how to code because her job now requires it. More and more coding is becoming essential to any job of the future. The saying is so true we are training students for jobs that don’t even exist yet.
Now it has taken me a while to get into the coding wave, per-say. The reason is that I have had a hard time figuring out how to fit coding into the curriculum. You see for me curriculum is and should the foundation for all of our learning and teaching. However, now that I have had some better understanding of coding I think I feel more comfortable incorporating it into my classroom. 
I am writing this post to share some of my learning and to share some of my big ahas.
Why Code?
If you haven’t tried coding once then you may not see the potential that coding has for your classroom. Coding is amazing, I have always thought this. Coding is a built in problem. The very essence of coding is creating something from nothing. The Code that you write ends up creating endless possibilities. You are only confined by your imagination. So why code? Because it teaches students to problem solve, to be at a disequilibrium, to be collaborative and engaged with the 21st century learning (yes I know that many of you may not like that term). 

What programs are there for me to play with?
There are a lot of programs to play and learn how to code. First and foremost I would suggest going to code.org as this is an amazing website dedicated to coding.  I would also suggest connecting with Brian Aspinall (@mraspinall) and Lisa Ann Flyod (@lisanneflyod). 
There are also some great iPad apps: 
Lightbot
Hopscotch
Scratch Jr
Code.org has an app too. 
There are also many computer programs out there but one that I love is scratch.
So how did I start?
To be honest I just thought I would jump in but then had to rethink that plan as I really had no idea what I was doing. So the first step was coming up with an idea. At the moment we are studying measurement. I thought this would be a cool way to introduce coding and measuring concepts, especially non-standardize measuring. 
So my assignment was: Measure the span of your hand.
Step 1: I allowed the students to explore the program of scratch. I think that it is important for students to explore the programs they are using, as they will do this anyways may as well give them time to do so. 
Step 2: Gave them a set of challenges:  (import a picture, draw a line, make a scratch move, and add a sprite)
Step 3: Write a program that would measure the span of your hand. (first test) (second attempt)
This process was amazing; however, it wasn’t until I tweeted our first program to a friend (Lisa and Brian) of mine that we started to see where we went wrong. This is also where I learned about adding variables to my code would help to improve it. To be honest I had no idea what variables meant.

This is the amazing part of sharing your ideas. Lisa offered us great advice and my students took the learning opportunity. Hear is what they did:

Lisa’s 

My Learning:
1) Students can do remarkable things: 
Don’t hold back because you don’t have a good understanding of coding. You will be surprised at what students can accomplish. 
2) Learn with the students and then share your learning:
Often through this process I was learning and working on the problem along with my students. As the students or I made a finding we stopped the class and talked about it. We even shared the links and had students remix the code. 
3) Plan the curriculum expectations before hand: 
Now make sure you have a plan of the big ideas in your mind. I often hear that these types of plans do not go well because the kids went wild or off task. If you don’t have a plan they will. Keep the curriculum in mind.
4) If at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again.
Coding is worth it. It is such a rich task with high possibilities. I have made a lot of mistakes with coding in the classroom but to be honest even those mistakes the kids learned a lot both curriculum and with coding. 
Overall, adding coding to my classroom was a lot of fun and so worth the struggles. The students are so engaged in the lesson and learned a lot. In fact without thinking about it my students learned about the relationships between adding and subtracting, coordinate grids, negative numbers, Cartesian planes, what a pixel was, and how to find the distance of a line. AMAZING!!! 
I hope that you attempt some coding in the classroom and if you do I would love to see and hear what you have done. 
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My Ideal Classroom

There has been a lot of talk lately on “the classroom space.”  Seeing all these fantastic posts has me thinking about what my ideal classroom would look like, sound like and act like ( You can’t tell that I am a primary teacher :)).  I would like to think that my classroom at the moment is very close but there is always that aim for perfection.

A lot has changed since I was in school. I can still remember most of my classrooms in rows with the teacher at the front of the classroom and us the students copying, practising or doing school work.  I also can remember very little about these experiences. In fact the two strongest memories that I have of my school career was my grade three and four classrooms. I remember my grade three teacher because of the amazing stories that she would tell of her childhood. She was a fantastic story teller and really tried to connect with us as students. My fourth grade classroom memory is of a space unit. I remember this because I was basically told, “Jonathan, go as far as you want with this!” and I did.

In many ways it is sad that I only have two really great memories of school.  Some one once asked me that if you went back in time 50 years would the classroom look any different?  The sad reality is no it wouldn’t. However, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t.

I think back to even how my classroom has undergone some dramatic changes since I started teaching.  I will start by saying that I have always felt my classroom was a place of inquiry. Since the beginning of teaching I have been an admirer of Piaget and Vygotsky. However, my classroom space continues to evolve into more of my ideal space.

Maybe I should have started with this but here is my vision. My ideal classroom is a classroom where all are contributors. Each student has a voice that is respected by peers and teachers. As a teacher I am not the wise sage that I grew up listening too but one who sets the conditions for the learning and asks questions along the way. My ideal space has places for all types of learners, not just particular sets of minds but places for all to feel comfortable in learning. This may mean quiet zones, maker spaces, work spaces (both collaboration and single desk spaces), and a carpet space. I want the classroom space to also be a positive space, where ALL are welcomed and appreciated.

I think when I first started teaching I knew kind of what I wanted but not really how to get there. My first classroom was a POD. It was amazing to see no walls and four classrooms. I think if I could I would go back to this type of open space. It was amazing to see such a big space for learning. However, I think that even though I wanted a classroom where I didn’t talk too much, I think I did. It was still a place of inquiry but it was my inquiry and not the students. As my career developed so did my ability to bring students inquiry ideas into real authentic learning.

Presently the my classroom is probably the closest it as ever been to my vision. My students are amazing thinkers and learners. I have amazing group collaborative spaces and singular spaces. My students don’t really see a table as their table spaces but places to work. They are on the floor, the carpet or at tables, where ever they seem to work best. At times because of the noise I even flow out to the hallway. At the same time my students feel like they can ask any question to anyone, as well as, answer questions without waiting for me to answer. Now this space did not happen over night. In fact I remember coming home in August ( I teach in a balance calendar) wondering if I would ever reach the ideal learning space. But with a lot of work both on my part and the students, I think we are well on our way of achieving it.

I would love to hear your ideas of what an ideal Classroom is?  
How did you achieve it? 
What is the most important part of your classroom?

Before I finish this post thought I would share some of my space with you.

My Classroom in Action:

10 Greatest Things of 2014!

I know that we are three weeks into 2015 but I was recently challenged by a great friend and colleague Brian Aspinall  about reflecting on the 10 best things of 2014.  I loved that in his blog and in many others that they mention how great it is to share their success and how it also is amazing to be reminded of all the positives that have happened.

I think that it is very easy as people to get bogged down with the negatives in your life that we loose site of all the great things that have happened. If you have not done so I highly recommend that you take up this challenge and share with the world what success you have had.  That being said without further discussion here are my 10 greatest things of 2014, hope that I can do this.

1) My son was born, July 7, 2014:  This has been the signal most important thing that happened in 2014. It has been amazing to see him grow and see the interaction between my daughter and him. When all is wrong with my day all it takes is a smile from both of them when I enter the door to make you think about what is really important in the world.

2) I finished my Masters’ of Education: Yet another amazing achievement in my life. It took some time but four years well worth it. If you have not done so I really recommend that you do, and go the thesis route not the course. The course route can be quicker but the learning in your own research is amazing. At times I wanted to throw it out the door but it has also allowed me to be a better educator.

3) Presented at the Ontario, GAFE Summit: Being pushed by my other great friend Rolland Chidiac into presenting at this conference was a blessing in disguise. I was already using GAFE in the classroom without knowing it but after going to this conference my eyes were blown open.  GAFE goes well beyond the bells and whistles of amazing tech, it has sound pedagogical learning and enhances student success.   Because of this I started my own admin for my school and implemented it fully into the classroom. I was also able to network with truly amazing educators: Julie Millan, Michelle Cordym, and Scott Mohanan.

From these connection I have been able to meet other amazing educators like Sharon Moskovitz.

4) Met amazing educators: This was also the year that I continued to build amazing relationships with amazing people. These educators have become great friends and colleagues. I will list some but there are so many:

1) Matthew Oldridge
2) Helen Chapman
3) Brian Aspinall
4) Shivonne Lewis-Young
5) Aviva Dunsiger

There have been so many more and just want to say thank-you to all who I have talked to. It has been an amazing journey.

5) Year of presentations: Wow, this year has been filled with amazing opportunities to share and learn from wonderful people. I was able to present at the NFO leadership conference, Bit14, OAME14, GAFE summit, TDSB google Camp and was invited to Waterloo for a numbers talk presentation.

6) TLLP project:  For those not familiar with the TLLP it stands for teaching leadership and learning program. It is a government funded project that gives leadership to teachers to run their own PD. Last year my project was chosen and it was amazing. Not only that but from it came an opportunity of a life time. Ann Lieberman, who is the head researcher and professor at Standford University, asked me and my great friend Michelle Cordym (mentioned above) to go to China with her. Truly a blessing.

7) Started working with amazing group of educators in Peel on our first Google Camp: Now I know this camp is happening in 2015 but it all started in 2014. I am lucky to work in a board full of amazing people and educators. We are not the largest board in Ontario but pretty close and it is full of diverse thinkers and people but that is what makes it special. Peel is an amazing place to work. This group is no different. It has been an amazing journey planning this conference. And a lot of learning too.

8) I maintained my goal of two blog posts a month (except July and December but I was on break)
Now I know this may not seem like a big accomplishment but blogging has been a major goal of mine. I am not the best writer in the world. It is very hard for me to communicate in writing and get my ideas clearly on paper. It often takes me many revisions and even then it still is laden with mistakes. But it is also a lot of fun and very therapeutic.  Maintaining this goal was a big accomplishment for me and one that I stuck with.

9)  My Daughter Started Kindergarten: During my first year of teaching I was told that my teaching would change when I had kids. I didn’t believe them and you know what it didn’t; however, it did change when my daughter went to school this year.  I have included this in my accomplishments because it made me a better teacher. For the first time in my career I realized what it was like to be on the other side of the table. I was that parent who wanted to ask, “how are they doing?” and it made me realize the power that a great parent relationship has to a child’s success.

10) I continue to work with amazing people everyday: I am truly blessed with the school that I am at. We started the journey at Ray Lawson two years ago, built the school from the ground up (not literally but educationally). It has been an amazing journey to be on and one that is so well worth the ride. It has made me a better teacher, a better person and a better leader.

Thank you for reading my top 10 things of 2014. Thank you Brian for challenging me to think and reflect.  It is truly amazing to keep the positives going in our life. If I mentioned you above I for sure want to hear your success and I challenge all of you reading this to do the same. Here is to 2015!! Keep the positives going!

A Year in Review

As another year comes to an end I cannot help but use this time to reflect on the learning that happened. It was a very exciting year, with lots of activity and meeting amazing educators.

Educators who have Impacted my Learning

I want to start this blog post with a big Thank-you to some great friends and educator. This year I have met some incredible people and educators who have pushed my thinking. Without these relationships I don’t think I would have has the success that I have had. If you are not following these individuals you need to:

Matthew Oldridge: big thank you for all of the math learning, questions, posts and great conversations.

Brian Aspinall: Thank you for all of the help with computer programing and pushing my thinking in education. Truly an star in our field.

Rolland Chidiac : Thank you for always pushing my thinking and helping me grow in as an educator. Also for being an amazing friend and colleague.

Michelle Cordy: Thank you for your friendship, your jokes and your expertise. You are an amazing educator, leader and friend. Look forward to the journey ahead.

Scott Monahan: Thank you for always answering my questions. You are always there for any help.

Helen Chapman: Thank you for being an amazing educator. You are an inspiration for all.

Julie Millan: Thank you for being a leader and pushing my learning. Also for your help with GAFE and your encouragement to continue it in our board.

Shivonne Lewis-Young : You truly are an amazing educator. Thank you for your leadership in blogging and your expertise in Genius hour.

Neil Lyons: Thank you for pushing my thinking and help with GAFE. It has been great to connect with you and look forward to the learning journey ahead.

Sharon Moskoitz: Thank you for the amazing connection this year. It has been a blast working with you.

Aviva Dunsiger: Thank you for always pushing my thinking with your comments and your posts.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank these educators for there help and expertise. All of you continue to push my thinking with your amazing questions, your expertise and your friendship. Without you I would not be where I am today. Thank you for your help, whenever I ask.

Biggest Aha Moment:

This actually happened pretty recently. As I have blogged before my daughter started kindergarten this year and it has opened my eyes to a whole different look into education. Before this moment I don’t know if I truly understood how important the relationship between parents and teachers is. I mean I know that in order to have true success with student growth you need to have a partnership but it was always during various reporting times or if the student struggled.

When my daughter went to school, for the first time I was in the dark. I couldn’t help but think about how many times I left parents in the dark or made them have the feeling that they didn’t know what was happening.   Newsletters are amazing and so is little notes in the agenda but is that enough. How else can we open the doors to our parents so that they are truly a partner in students learning?

Because of this feeling I decided to do a couple of things:

1) Regularly tweet what is happening in the day.
2) Storify my daily tweets with questions and suggested activities for parents at home
3) Have students write a monthly newsletter telling parents their goals, next steps and success
4) Regular celebration of learning: This happens once a term. Parents come and see students portfolios, solve some problems with the students and share in their successes

I know that these may seem like a lot of extra things for us as teachers to do but to be honest it has really simplified the classroom. Students are taking more pride in their work because they have an audience, parents ( at least in my opinion) enjoy the communication, and there are a lot less questions being asked about my program because parents are always in the loop.

Greatest Impact on my Teaching: 

This year I had two impacts on my teaching. The first was I learned about the wonderful world of Google. Before this I knew what google was, I mean I used it for my own personal use but for education I never even knew what impact it could have. In April I attended the Ontario GAFE Summit in Kitchener and I had my mind blown away. I was truly in awe at all of the possibilities of GAFE (Google for apps for education) in the classroom. I came back from that summit and told my principal about it, signed our school up for a education domain and the rest is history. This school year, my whole classroom has been on GAFE accounts. We use it for assignments, editing, researching, presenting, math and homework. All of my assignments are online where students and parents have access to it. Students also have online portfolios and are in charge of updating this website. If you are not using google I highly suggest that you try some of the amazing apps and learning that comes with GAFE (oh did I mention that it is free).

My second impact is my learning around inquiry. I want to say that I have always been teaching through inquiry and problem solving but it has been me asking questions and then letting the students explore. Now, I have students ask the questions and then go and explore their questions. Opening up the inquiry process to the students allows the students to have better control over their learning. I also have now started with bigger opened questions (e.g. what is the best celebration? Why? or how does the qualities of solid, liquids and gas affect our life?). Having these open ended questions for students guides their thinking but still leaves the learning up to them. They are the ones that design experiments, draw their own conclusions and share it with the classroom.  My role is to guide, facilitate, assess, and scaffold where needed.

Greatest Impact on my Leadership:

This year I was able to take part in the TLLP (Teaching Learning and Leadership Program). This Ontario Program was created to improve the PD (professional Development) in Ontario. The PD is proposed by teachers and run by teacher. If you have not had the opportunity to apply for this funding I highly encourage you to do so.  For a full report on my learning you can read this link.

My personal learning has been how to clarify a vision and build it within a school community. Before I started this journey I thought that a vision could be communicated easily and then, with careful planning, implemented. I learned it takes more than that.  Building connections among staff members is critical, understanding what others think, honouring their opinions, and finding how everyone can fit into the vision is all part of the process. For a school wide approach to take hold it takes strong individuals to lead but it also takes patience, guidance and understanding for it to sustain itself.  This process was not about bullying my way through people to get the project done but by understanding how to encourage all learners to see the bigger picture.  It taught me that a leader needs to have a clear vision but also an understanding heart. A leader needs to see who is on their team, where their understanding is, and how to assist them in their learning and growth.  It taught me to always see the good in people, that resistance is not always about not wanting to change but that people don’t know how and it is the job of a leader to understand where they can assist.

Working On: 

There are many things that I want to work on for next year. The first is learning more about GAFE and all of the amazing things that come with it. I also want to learn more about computer programming and implementing it in my classroom and curriculum. The final piece is finding more time for my family.

Best personal Event:

My teaching is not all that makes me. This year has also bee filled with many cool personal events. This year we welcomed my son (Micah) into the world. Having two kids defiantly changes things but it has been a joy to watch them both grow.

Overall, I cannot believe how fast the year has happened. I look forward to what next year brings and the learning that will come with it. Before I leave I challenge you to reflect on your year:

Who has been the most influential educator in your year?  
What has been your biggest AHA moment?
Greatest impact on your teaching?
Greatest impact or learning in your Leadership?
What are you still working on?
Best personal Event

Would love to see what your learning has been.  I would also like to thank all of my readers for reading my rambles and thoughts. Blogging has been another great experience this year. May next year be a great year for you.

My 2ndish attempt at using provocations

I would like to think that I teach through Inquiry.  I really try to keep all of my work about the kids and their thinking; however, I do find myself still leading discussions more than I would like.  Then I learned about provocations.  WOW! I know that I have previously blog about this subject but since that time I have tried to use them more.  Today in science I did just that (at least I hope I did).

Here is what I did:

1) I got a bunch of experiments working on air and water

Center 1: AIR

Center 2: Water
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(note: some of these items were for other provocations)
Center 3: Water Cycle
Center #4: Pollution
I then broke them into groups had books and iPads at the centers and asked them what do they observe?  Wow, I couldn’t believe the talk, the focus, and  the engagement.  Take a look at this shot:
Here the students were so engrossed in what was happening that they didn’t even notice me.  They were saying, “cool look its raining!”  They were also using the vocabulary that we have been building before this through our watercraft project.
What did I learn?

1) Inquiry (true inquiry) is allowing planned exploration.  Students really need time to explore and make observations about the subjects.
2) This takes a lot of planning.  I been planning this for some time now (many thanks to my amazing PLN for their help in this).  As I have been planning I had to think about questions, get all of the materials ready and even think about possible misconceptions.
3) True assessment.  I was amazed at what the students had absorbed through previous books, the Watercraft project and our discussions.
4) Its a lot of fun to watch the joy and engagement of true learning
So if you haven’t done provocations before, give it ago.  Its a lot of fun and you would be surprised at what you will learn about your students.

Why teach through inquiry? A real testimonial

Now I know that I have posted on this subject before but with the day I had I just had to write about it again.  Inquiry: WOW!  Man I love it.

I know that recently there has been a lot of discussion about inquiry in the classroom and if it is really making students learn.  There has also been a huge push to go “back to basics” all I have to say is wish you were in my class (even school) today.  Today’s math problem was quite simple: 
“Mrs. Standring, our proud principal, needs help.  Our school has been open for two years now and we got more kids this year, because of that the fire Marshal has asked her to make a new fire plan.  I was telling her that we were studying measurement and she thought you could help.  How far is our door to the nearest fire door?”
The kids went nuts. It took them a while to get over the fact that they were helping Mrs.Standring.  Well they just started with the questions: what tools can we use? How are we starting? Which door is closer?
Most of them saw that a meter stick would be the best measurement tool, we had been talking about measurements for some time and been measuring in non-standard too and knew that it was inconsistent. So they all grabbed meter sticks and off they went.
We got a bunch of numbers and came to the carpet to discuss. They were all in confusion, why do we have different numbers. We used a standard measurement? We then asked the students to demonstrate how they measured.  Some saw that when you lift the ruler up, you sometimes, overlap the space or leave a gap.  I then asked them how can we prevent that?  This brought up the discussion of leaving marks, or placing fingers.  They went back at it.
Students then came up with an answer but when I asked them to tell our principal they didn’t know what to say.  This of course then led us into a discussion about explanation texts, which we then made some success criteria and off they went to write.  When the bell rang half way through the students were very upset that they didn’t have enough time to finish there work.
Not only did this problem happen in my classroom but my teaching partner did it too.  Her kids thought string was the best and then bring it back to measure against a meter stick.
Now you may read this and say so what? So what! The best part of this is that all this discussion was student driven. All collaboration, student driven, all learning student driven.  Yes as a teacher I am incharge.  I have planned this problem, I have thought of the big ideas and questions but it is the passion, and learning of my students that drive this problem.  Also, when looking back (though I will say to make it worth while this should be done first) my students met over 37 expectations from the curriculum and all of the learning skills that are in the report card.  In addition, the talk was amazing and the learning even more. Not only this but when it comes to assessment I have it all, with no tests.  I know my students skills, next steps and a mark of work.
Inquiry for me is the only way to teach.  Yes, students do need facts and knowledge but that fact and knowledge is gained through the inquiry process.  Also, if a student doesn’t have that to start with as a teacher it is my job to scaffold the question so that they do learn; however, it should still be done in a way that the student is discovering the learning.
Now in the end, there is no wrong way to teach, all learning is valid and good. But through inquiry students do grasb and understand concepts faster and with a deeper understanding. It’s been amazing to see our students development as our school adopts this approach. There is less review needed from year to year and the students are talking more and communicating their thoughts.  For me there are a couple of key reasons to teach through inquiry:
1) Students learn and enjoy the lessons more then traditional teaching styles
2) It covers more curriculum and deeper knowledge
3) Students retain information
4) Learning is integrated in real life, why separate at school
5) It validates the students and makes them buy into their learning. If they are invested you have less behaviours
6) students easily tune a teachers voice out but not their peers
7) It’s fun for me too! Shh don’t tell my students
What are some potential problems: (though to me they are not problems)
1) Problems take time: learning is not easily divided into 30, 40 minute time blocks
2) Can be and should be noisy but productive
3) Takes more planning: yes it takes more planning. You cannot wing inquiry. Even though it may appear as if it is winged or that the teacher is doing nothing it is an art form and requires a lot more planning (will tough on that in a minute)
4) Parents: you will get parents complaining and questioning your practice.  This is new for many and with new comes questions and fears. Stand up and proudly defend your practice because when they hear and see their kids they will love you.
5) you may not have all of the answers
What do I need to do to teach through inquiry?
1) know your content and curriculum: when you know your students learning it is easier to formulate questions and scaffold students learning.
2) plan: I wrote a previous blog post about planning but essentially you need to plan.  Inquiry does not happen by the seat of your pants.  You need to anticipate students questions, problems, and ideas.  You need to know what the big ideas are and where you want the lesson to go.  You need to understand learning trajectories and see where your class is and should go next and you need to do the problem first.
3) inquiry should be contextual and related to the kids life.  The best inquiries are ones in which the students really wonder or can invest in.
4) have fun and don’t be afraid to make a mistake.
Overall, I feel inquiry has been one of the best things I could have done. It really benefits the students and it makes my assessment easier.  I would love to hear your thoughts on inquiry? Have you tried it? Struggles? Pointers? Thanks for reading.

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?