Thursday 5 May 2016

Being a Teacher Parent and what it has taught me

I just finished reading Aviva Dunsiger's Post on Do Parents know what is happening in the classroom and of course I love what she has to say. So much so that I thought writing a post in response would be the better option. In fact, I have been meaning to write about this for a while just have to find the time.

I want to start off with being a Parent is one of the hardest things that I have ever done (I sense and hear the smirks from all the parents reading this as I know you know what I mean). And to be honest I knew that before being a parent but I didn't really know that if you know what I mean.

To be honest I don't think that I really have thought about my connection to parents before until I was a parent with a child in school. Sure I knew that it was important. I knew that we were a partnership. I knew that we needed regular communication. Before having Izzy go to school I would have regular communications, I would write newsletters and then blogs and thought that I was doing a great job of telling them what I was doing in the classroom.

Then my daughter went to Kindergarten for the very first time and everything changed. For the first time, I understood why my student's parents said, "How is my kid doing?" I wanted to know what she was doing and how she was behaving.

Because of this I have learned many things:

1) Plenty of communication:

Though I thought I was doing this before I realized that I wasn't. If I still had parents asking me how is my child doing then I wasn't doing a good enough job. If I as a parent wanted to know what was happening then I was sure my parents were too. So know I do more tweets of the day. I collect those tweets in small weekly blog posts of what we did (Aviva does a much better job of this) with questions that we have been exploring and how parents can extend the conversation at home. Being in an older grade I have my students write monthly report card to their parents (when I taught 2 I did these) outlining what they are doing well, what they're struggling in, what their goals are and what they can do at home to help. This doesn't have to be long but I find that if parents know what is happening; 1) they are a lot happier and 2) they don't ask a lot of questions. I also invite my parents in whenever they can but we also try to do 3 sharing summits of their students work. These are during the day but we invite parents to come in and have their kids show them what they have been working on and how they have been progressing.

As a parent being able to ask my daughter, when you did ______ activity did you learn about _____? instead of what did you do today? has been the best gift ever. We talk about her learning, instead of me getting "fine." At the same time, if she is already at 6 telling me fine what will that look like as she gets older?

Now that I am a parent I think the more communication I do the better. I shouldn't wonder or even have to ask my kids what they did at school because I already know or have places to check and see what they did. I know this means a lot more work but the connections that you can make and the partnerships that you can develop is really amazing.

2) Kids want to feel connected to you as a Teacher:

Again, this is not something profound but I don't think that this really sunk home until Izzy was in school. I also don't think this is an area of strength for me. I mean I always tried to connect with the kids on their level, played sports with them, joked and had fun but was I really building a relationship. If they had a concern did I listen to them and tried to sympathize. My daughter has a lot of issues with self-regulation, I know she is only 6 but this is a big area of need for her. However, a lot of the problems in school surround her feeling lonely and not listened too. We cannot entertain all of the ideas that kids have but I think a lot of our so-called "behaviours" can be calmed and worked through with listening and making students feelings valid. Once they feel like you care, a lot more rationalizing and teaching can happen.

3) Life is extremely Chaotic at home:

This is something that I have been struggling with a lot as a teacher. I know what my house is like with two kids (soon to be three), what is home like for my students? When I assign a piece of homework, what is that doing to the dynamics? The stress? Is it meaningful? I have been very lucky that Izzy hasn't gotten a lot if any homework but I know it will come. What will that do to her anxiety, stress our home dynamics? I am still debating this but something to contemplate why and what we do after school. Is this something that we have a right to do? Is it something that we should/ need to do?

As I said before being a parent is one of the hardest things if not the hardest thing anyone can do. Our parents send the best thing that they have and they do the best job that they can possibly do with the tools they have. What do we do to help them? What do we to help with that stress?

Love to hear your thoughts

Wednesday 6 April 2016

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. 

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

Wednesday 23 March 2016

My Journey to Moving towards a less Constrained Classroom

I recently blogged about a moment in the classroom when I had little to no kids. In fact I only had 8 due to various reason, so I decided that I couldn't go on with traditionally teaching and instead moved to a choose your own adventure model of learning. I let my kids explore whatever they want to do or work on any projects that they wanted to. This got my brains thinking about:

"What if learning was like this everyday?"
I had many questions about this process and trying to make it a whole class approach:

I know that we are hampered with the curriculum but are we?  
Is it possible to let all kids explore what they want and for us to assist with the learning? 
Is there benefit to have all kids learning the same thing at the same time? or should students do what they feel like? 

I also struggled with the idea that if this is a better model of teaching how do we do train teachers and sustain this model. I loved the responses that I received from my PLN and I am still researching and learning more about this process.

However, though I still have more questions then answers I have decided to go ahead and try something for our next unit of study in Social Studies.

The idea started with Myron Dueck's tweet:
I loved his insertion of choice of medium and how will I showcase the learning expectation. As you know I have been struggling with how do I let the openness to happen while still maintaining the curriculum. My thought is for the students to complete a series of challenges anyway that they can.

I devised five challenges that link specifically to the curriculum big ideas. I tried to leave it as open as possible focusing on a key question for them to investigate and then let them decide on how they will showcase their learning.

Here is my plan. I still have to create the website along with what the badges will look like but its a work in progress.  Thought I would share with you my process and if you have any advice please let me know.

What do you think of this idea?
Do you think it will work?
Any advice?
Anything that you would change?

I cannot wait to hear your ideas. Thanks for helping me with this plan.

Monday 14 March 2016

When little to no students are in your room

So recently due to a sporting event and low numbers I had a class of 10 kids. Traditionally I would normally just gone on with my lessons and let the others catch up later. However, lately I have been exploring what is a classroom.

Traditionally, the model for classroom has been rows of desks and children sitting in them. It is an industrial model that makes us the teacher in charge of imparting knowledge. However, our classrooms haven't really changed much. I know we have moved to more student centered with grouped desks but the model we still follow has been to impart knowledge.

This has bothered me a lot because I think in todays world knowledge is being thrown at our kids so fast. I am also finding that many of my students seem to just be coming to school and really not thinking about the learning. This has really bothered me as I think it should all of us.

So having a very small class allowed me to do some more exploring. I decided to make my day a choose your own adventure model of learning. We have had a couple of projects on the go as well as some cool maker space things that we have in our classroom. I left the day up to the students and I decided to walk around and observe/ help with their learning. It was probably one of the best things that I have ever done. The kids didn't even want to stop the learning, the bells went and they were still building robots, practising speeches and playing with circuit boards. I also saw learning for the sake of learning.

This got me thinking, why isn't all class like this?

I know that we are hampered with the curriculum but are we?  
Is it possible to let all kids explore what they want and for us to assist with the learning? 
Is there benefit to have all kids learning the same thing at the same time? or should students do what they feel like? 

At this present time I have more questions then I have answers and I would love to here your comments and thoughts. I believe education needs to start changing and needs to look different then what we traditionally see it. How should it change?

Monday 8 February 2016

3D printing

Printer in action

So last week i jump into the amazing world of 3D printing and I am completely hooked. All I want to do now is 3D print. It was truly the most amazing experience I have ever been a part of. However, as any good technology there always has to be a purpose. 3D printing has all of this in one small package.

Let's first take a look at the project:

For this project my students had to research and design their own International Space Center. Students first researched and wrote a small report on the International Space Center and then got into Project Ignite to design their own. Project ignite is online tinkercad program.

Now on the whole this project may look simple but it covers so many curriculum expectations.

First let's look at the math:

Math (Grade 6 curriculum):

Number Sense:
– estimate quantities using benchmarks of 10%, 25%, 50%, 75%, and 100% (e.g., the container is about 75% full; approximately 50% of our students walk to school)
– represent, compare, and order whole numbers and decimal numbers from 0.001 to 1 000 000, using a variety of tools (e.g., number lines with appropriate increments, base ten materials for decimals)
– represent ratios found in real-life contexts, using concrete materials, drawings,and standard fractional notation

Throughout this project students are working at reducing and estimating the size of an object. They have to look at measurements that are in decimal notation and in standardize units. In addition, students also have to learn to scale objects down when we print or it would be to long.

– demonstrate an understanding of the relationship between estimated and precise measurements, and determine and justify when each kind is appropriate

Taking an idea from your head and making it a reality always relates to some sort of measurement. In this case students were also required to look at specific measurements while they manipulated the program. Those that were successful at reading these measurements also had a more successful product.

– sketch, using a variety of tools (e.g., isometric dot paper, dynamic geometry software), isometric perspectives and different views (i.e., top, side, front) of three-dimensional figures built with interlocking cubes
– build three-dimensional models using connecting cubes, given isometric sketches or different views
– explain how a coordinate system represents location, and plot points in the first quadrant of a Cartesian coordinate plane
– identify, perform, and describe, through investigation using a variety of tools (e.g., grid paper, tissue paper, protractor, computer technology), rotations of 180º and clockwise and counterclockwise rotations of 90°, with the centre of rotation inside or outside the shape
– create and analyse designs made by reflecting, translating, and/or rotating a shape, or shapes, by 90º or 180º

The whole project dealt in a 3D space. Students learned x, y and z planes and where able to manipulate these objects in the plane. Traditionally these transformational Geometry are taught on a 2D plane making it hard for many students to visualize what is happening. Using a product like Tinkercad allows students to practise and visualize in the proper space.

Students also hit on their writing, reading and science curriculum. Students had to research, and read about the current ISS. They had to know how it operated so that they could redesign the process. Not only did they do this but they also hit many of the 7 C's that we talk about for 21st century learning. Throughout this whole process students were being creative, communicating ideas, collaborating with others as they had to figure out new tech, Critical think and problem solve out of situations, and be adaptable (which isn't a c but a critical one non-the-less). Students where so engaged throughout this process and learned a lot about the ISS itself.

Here are some of their designs:

As always it is never about the tech but the planning. This project took a lot of effort to plan and make it pedagogical sound for the students. They had to plan, research and then revise their plan even before they could work in the software. Once in the software portion they had to revise as some ideas didn't work and even after we printed many of the students revised having learned that their projects wouldn't work. This whole reflective and planning piece is critical to the success of any lesson involving new technology.

I highly encourage anyone to get their hands on 3D printing and do this in their classroom. Even if you don't print the aspect of working on Tinkercad was truly amazing in itself. The printing portion was just a nice add-on.  Big thanks and shout out to David Cruz who brought the printer to us.

What does it mean to have a reflective class?

Just before the winter break I got my hands on probably two of the greatest books I have ever read. The books were titled: Teaching students to self Assess and Hacking the Classroom: 10 ways to go Gradeless in a Traditional Classroom by Starr Sackstien

You can find both books:

These book were revolutionary because it validated what I was already starting to do in the classroom. For a long time I have felt that the way I was assessing students wasn't working. When I first started teaching I like many just followed what has been in place for centuries. We taught, we had students review and then we tested. We got data from these test but to be honest was it accurate or reflective of what that student can do? 

These were the questions that I asked for numerous years before I sat in my classroom watching my students taking a test. Some of my students started to ask their friends some questions. I was about to tell them to be quiet when I sat there a decided to listen. The types of questions I was hearing was basically what I already knew about these students based on my observations.  Then as I was marking I kept nodding as I already knew why those particular kids got the marks they got. 

This is when it dawned on me that I already knew more about my students than any test was going to give me. Based on my interviews, observations and comments I made throughout the problem solving process, I already had a better picture of my students needs, next steps and achievements. This was the moment that I gave up formal testing. However, reflecting back I was still missing something. 

I had these amazing comments and observations I would share them with students but kids didn't read them (well most kids that is). This took me a long time to reflect on this, which is why I was led to this amazing book. 

So what was I doing wrong? I was giving marks with my comments. I know this may seem like a simple thing but basically my students only honoured the mark and not the grade.  

If you think back to your own learning what have you always wanted, that lovely A. School has never been about the learning but always about the grades. This is true for our parents too. I come from a fairly traditional household and even when I came home with a 95% the reply back was where is the other 5%. It has been ingrained in our society to think about the letter and not what we need to achieve the letter grade. 

So what have I done this year to address this: 

After reading the books I rapidly changed my practice. I started thinking about how I can make my students better at reflecting and honouring the learning process. We first started with looking at our Curriculum. Yes I actually read the curriculum document with my kids. Before each unit of study we sit down and reflect on what standards we need to learn based on what the curriculum says. I have the students tell me in their own words what they have to do to achieve the standards of their grade level. now I do teach grade 6 but I think this can be done at any grade you just may have to think about the amount of expectations that you want them to focus on. 

We also created a google form for their reflecting purposes. This is still a work in progress. This form gives me a quick look into my students thinking about what they thought they achieved and did on the assignment. Once these are submitted we have a conference about their learning where I either agree with their assessment or disagree. We also discuss next steps and my observations of their work. These conversations are about five minutes in length. 

I also turned to having students do a final reflection on what they think their term 1 report cards are going to look like. This took a while and I am going to try and shorten this process but I also got very rich and amazing discussions from it.

Now you may think that grades are important but I have seen more growth this year in my students then ever before. 

On a recent reflection about their writing here is what some students said: 

I think I got 3 as my final mark. Maybe even 2.8. That is because my tone; it felt like I was shouting. I also plagiarized so that would cut out some marks. I would work on my tone and remember not to plagiarize in the future. I think I was stressing my point a bit to much and the person who I wrote this letter to already knew about this topic. It felt to him, even me, that I basically screaming through the letter. Next time, I should consider my audience. My goal is to get a level 4 in my next writing piece. ~ Raghav

I think I would get a 3 because in the comments you wrote "This the work I expect from you all the time" and I followed most of the guidelines given. ~ Manpreet

Now this was their first attempt at reflecting and is still a work in progress.  In fact after some short reflections on our reflection this is what students said during their final report for term 1: 

I think I deserve this mark because I can do and understand basic math, but I need more practise on justifying my work and answer. I need to work on think more deep and more logically. Math has a big part of logic which I need to practise on because I am very used to the algorithm and what we have been taught in primary grades. I need to focus more on understanding the numbers. ~ Pavneet

- in the Surface Area Assignment he used math terms to write an answer to the question he was given - In the None To Many assignment Manchit used math concepts to do math calculations to find the mean and the median - should try to understand what is happening when you do the math equation

It is funny because these comments was what I wrote on their reports even before I read their responses. I have found that the more students reflect and conference with you the more that they become in charge of their learning. 

Now this does take time. It is not something that can be done on the side; you must put the effort into making it a part of your practise and taking the time to reflect but the more that you do this the better students will get at it.  I often hear that we need to prepare our students for what lies ahead but the reality is in life grades don't matter. They mean nothing except for university and even the grades they look at are the last years. What we need to do is train our children to know how to get the grades they want. To set goals and learn what it takes to meet them. We are training our students for today because in doing so we train them for tomorrow.

So I encourage you to a) read the books and b) jump in going gradeless.  You have nothing to loose and all to gain. 

Sunday 24 January 2016

To Code or not to Code?

I know that this seems like a topic that is in everyone's blog post but that because it is in my own personal opinion one of the most important concepts to be teaching.

This isn't because of being the coolest new buzz word to get everyone's attention but because it actually makes our students smarter. Now I really don't have any research to back me up here but from what I have seen in K-6 it has made my students smarter. Not book smart but thinking smarts.

Coding didn't teach my kids to memorize facts or to follow procedures but to think about what they are doing and why. Sure many of them often followed other people's ideas but the thinking that went into understanding code was tremendous.

Coding in my classroom is not just about computer science. I do not believe that in my role am I a)qualified to teach the skills and b) is the place but what it is, is part of my everyday teaching.

For me coding is a tool, a vehicle for me to teach with. I treat it like I do any piece of technology or paper. It gives students a platform for learning. But it is the teacher that brings out that learning. I will be the first to tell you I only know the basics of code. But it is amazing to see kids understand and practise knowledge concepts through the act of coding.  Coding makes my students think about what is going on. It makes them understand the algorithms that we teach and learn in class and it gives a place to solidly knowledge that we normally solidify with a test or some sort of worksheet. 

Coding makes kids think and makes them creators and innovators. It teaches them to problem solve, to think and isn't that what we want for them?

I love this info-graphic:


So the questions then becomes how do I start?

Simple answer like you would another lesson. Have a big idea that you want to teach with, plan possible outcomes and find ways to modify for various students. Now think of a way to insert coding. You see it is not coding that makes it a great lesson but the planning that you do before hand. You cannot go into a lesson a just say hey let's code, you still have to plan.

Some lessons that I have done:

Measuring the distance around my hand in pixels: this grade 2 lesson had kids have their pixie move around their hand and count the pixels of their movement. We then compared the distance of our hand to fingers or the width of our thumb to that of our pinkie.

Design a game to create a pattern rule:

Students made a game for their partner to guess their rule. I also had them ask what is the algebraic statement. Students had to use algorithmic language to tell the computer what to say

Lightbot and codeable:

Are two great iPad apps that have many great practical knowledge built in. Counting, rotation, spatial sense, Cartesian planes, etc.

Coding has endless possibilities it is all up to your planning and own innovation. Remember it is not the tool that teaches but the teachers. Coding is a tool but you still need a good plan to teach.

For more ideas you should check out: