Monday, 29 December 2014

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.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

What does 21st Century Learning mean to you? (blog hop post)

My classroom hard at work

I have been posed the question, what does 21st Century learning mean to me?

For me a this can summed up in five words: Adaptable, Patient, Critical Thinkers, and Creators.


The world is changing very rapidly and learners need to be able to change with it. Our students and us need to be able to move at that rapid base and use information as it comes.


As the world changes answers may not always be there but they can be. With the right amount of patients any answer is possible

Critical Thinker:

This changing world does not need more complacent workers but thinkers. People that will change the world for the better. Learners also need to be able to sift through the endless streams of information to use it in a proper use.


Learners in the 21st century also need to be creators of information and creators of ideas. Learners using the above skills will be able to generate ideas, products and information in order for others to learn.

My further questions:

1) How do we teach to these skills?

2) How do we prepare ourselves and students to use these skills?

3) Am I missing anything?

I apologize as I am a little over in my word count but hopefully its short enough.

This blog post is part of #peel21st Amazing blog hop. Check out these other amazing Peel Bloggers on this subject:

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

What is Wrong with an Algorithm?

Nothing! Yes I said nothing! Let me elaborate.

In conversation today I was asked, "What is wrong with an algorithm?"  I get this question a lot. Now this question was asked because like us all we were taught to do an algorithm so we always do what is familiar for us. The question also came about because they were afraid of teaching their child the wrong way.

This inspired me to write this blog post. There is nothing wrong with learning an algorithm; there are some risks in only learning this but there is nothing wrong.

An algorithm was first invented in order to make math easier to do. We have to remember that calculators were not invented at this time and may people were using abacuses and basically counting by ones or a base 16 system. With the use of an algorithm counting became procedural and easier to do.  However, those using it understood mathematical foundations of why the algorithm worked.

This is the problem with introducing the algorithm to early. Let's just reflect on our own understanding of basic addition. We honestly did not learn how to add by using an algorithm first and to be fair our first insistence of remembering an algorithm (at least in my guess) was probably around grade three maybe four. This means that for four-five years, depending if you were in the pre-school or JK error you had a lot of experimentation and exploring in counting, saying numbers, ordering numbers and subitizing.  The problem is that we often forget all of the steps it took us in learning an algorithm.

For the past ten years I have been looking closely at how students learn mathematics. One of the foundation research pieces have been Fosnot and Dolk's landscape of Learning (2000). (full file)

I know that the picture is small but you can see all of the learning that a student has to go through in order to get to an understanding of algorithms.

Now here is my problem with starting with algorithms to early:

1) It doesn't teach proper number sense:

Now you may question me on this but in my honest opinion it doesn't teach proper number sense. The problem is that when a person does an algorithm it forces you to only look at numbers from 1-9. There is no true understanding of our base ten system. Students do not really understand why or how 1 group of ten can be ten things yet 1 ten. This is often seen when you ask a student tell you the value of a two digit number (let's say 24). When you point to the ten's column they will say the value is two. They will even go as far as counting 24 objects then pulling two of them to signify the value. This can also be seen when students use base ten blocks and they count the rods as two instead of twenty.

2) Basic procedural errors:

Now these errors may be dismissed as, they just have to learn the proper procedure. However, these are troubling errors because students not only are procedurally doing the operations wrong they are also struggling with reason-ability of answers or what I like to call no number sense.  

What I propose instead:

In my math class we work hard on developing a number line.  Learning this strategy does a lot of things: 

1) It allows all students to grasp a strategy whether they are counters by one or able to skip count proficiently. 

2) It teachers all of the rudimentary learning of number sense. Students learn one to one tagging, cardinality, subitizing, magnitude and many more options all in one strategy.

3) Eventually they develop more proficient mental strategies because they can conceptually understand what is happening to the numbers.

4) There is no need to regroup and or borrow with a number line, just the use of number sense.  I find this to be the biggest problem with algorithms. For example, let's take 56-49=7. Now for many of us we may not need to use an algorithm but ask your child or a younger student they will start by borrowing from the 5 (not fifty) to make 16 because you cannot take 6 from 9 (which we also no is not true-- ask anyone in debt or who has a mortgage) and then they will realize the answer is five. However, if students are taught proper number sense, they realize that they can just count up to the answer.

A number line also develops efficient mental math strategies that are far faster then whipping out a piece of paper and borrowing or regrouping.  Take a look at some of my grade twos thinking (all done 

By allowing my students to explore, question and develop their number sense they are better mathematicians and yes we have discussed an algorithm, we have developed an understanding of how to use it but my students make less mistakes with a number line then with an algorithm. And to be honest they much prefer the number line then the algorithm, most of the time they do this because that is what they think they need to do.

One of the biggest problems in our math programs today is that we often jump to far into the abstract without thinking about the concrete work that people need to develop in order to understand these concepts.

What do you think? When and where should algorithms be taught? How do you develop number sense? Love to hear your thoughts.

For further reading I recommend reading:

1) Fosnot, C. T., & Dolk, M. L. A. M. (2001). Young mathematicians at work. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

2) Anghileri, J., Beishuizen, M., & Van Putten, K. (2002). From informal strategies to structured procedures: mind the gap!. Educational Studies in Mathematics,49(2), 149-170. 

3) Kami and Dominck: The Harmful effects of Algorithms in 4-9

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Reply to a great blog post

I have been having trouble with commenting on Brian Aspinall's blog post:

This is an amazing blog post about learning through tech and how we don't all learn to drive with the same car so why teach tech through the same devices or apps.

Here were my thoughts:

Amazing, blog post Brian!  I couldn't agree with you more. I have always said to teachers; its not the app that makes the difference but the teacher.  My Librarian always tells this story, "She gets a lot of teachers who come in and say do you have books?  She looks at them and says, "yeah a lot; it's a library!" Then she says, "what do you want to do? What is your big ideas? Curriculum expectations?" I say the same thing with apps. There is an app for everything, it is all about what you want to do, what expectations do you want to hit.  This is what drives our teaching not the technology, that is just the vehicle in which you deliver the learning.

However, I do have some questions:

1) How do you implement a BYOD program into your school?

2) What about the students who cannot afford their own devices?

3) How do you use particular apps (ones that fit the program or use) without having them on all devices? (thinking paid apps that are great pedagogically wise.)

4) How do you get teachers into incorporating tech more into their own teaching?

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Your Ideas Matter

Thursday was one of the most amazing PD days I have ever been too and worked at. The organizers at Bit14 did a fabulous job!

While at my workshop on Bridging the Divide: Opening the Classroom Walls, with Aviva Dunsiger a conversation was sparked about the purpose of our blogs.  As I got home last night I thought of this video: 

I love this video for many reasons. But the the main reason is the message that your ideas matter.

                   This is what Aviva and I tried to share yesterday. As educators we all have amazing ideas. We are not defined by our four walls and our learning doesn't happen in an isolation. Keeping along with this message we all have specialties, whether we are students, teachers or parents. We all have skill sets, experiences, and point of views that are worth sharing. What ideas do you like talking about? What area is your expertise? How can I learn from you?

When I first started blogging I struggled because I didn't think that what I had to say was anything important. I read all these amazing blog posts and was almost in shell shock; saying to myself that there is no way that I can write anything that important. Then in dawned on me why not share my thoughts anyways and the rest is history. Now I am in no way a prolific blogger like my amazing friend Aviva but I do try and share my ideas when I can.  I set a goal of two a month and for the most part get that done. 

To help my blog posts started off more about what was happening in my classroom but slowly morphed into education discussions; like this one. They are a reflection depository for me to look back on. 

Now sharing an idea takes risk. This was brought up in the conversations at the presentation. As many looked at the examples (which are in the link) they stated:

1) The comments were very professional
2) They kept questioning
3) It felt as you didn't take comments personally
4) Its a great risk to comment

I would have to agree with all of these comments but it shouldn't hold you back.  Blogging and tweeting has been one of the best professional decisions that I have made in my career. It has made me more of a reflective practitioner, I have been able to build connections that I never thought I would have done and it has made me a better teacher because of the comments and learning that is being done.

So how do you get that started?

1) Jump in. I over heard this at one of our break out sessions in bit. It is not the fear of failure that holds us back but that of criticism.  Don't be afraid of that, you have no control over what others think. However, what it does allow to do is get amazing feedback from a different perspective. Today at TLLP 2014 Andy Hargreaves mentioned that we need to seek out those differing voices to make change happen. We don't have to like the comments but it pushes our thinking.

2) Learn to engage in the learning and sharing of others. I am guilty of this I read a lot of blogs but leave very little comments. But now I try really hard to interact with as many as I can. I try hard to leave a comment that goes beyond "great job" This is hard and often I have to go back to the blog post after I have reflected before doing so. By interaction is how you build relationships and trust (which is hard to do online).

3) How is your own blog post, tweet engaging. I once ask Aviva, no one responds to my posts. She turned around and said, "Does your post lend itself to being responded to?" This is a great question.

So I will end with this final thought:

1) How are you making connections in our profession?

2) How do you go about creating dialogue to push yourself and others outside of the four walls of the classroom?

3) What ideas are you willing to share? Remember your ideas matter

I can't wait to hear from you or read your blogs (feel free to tag me @mrsoclassroom and I will respond).

What Have You Done to Improve Our Profession?

I am sitting here at the TLLP sharing session in Mississauga listening to Joanne Myers. Truly an amazing speaker. She asked an important question:  What have you done today to advocate for our profession?  She then told us that the best advocacy is with our parents.

This has hit home. I have mentioned this before but my daughter started school this year and it has changed my thinking as a professional.  I never thought it would but thinking like a parent has made me reflect as a practitioner.  You can see my thoughts at this blog post. So when I heard this question I had to think back to everything that has been happening in the classroom this year.

From listening to the personal stories that Joanne has been saying these small moments we can have do impact our students lives. Just to share one:

She mentioned a little boy who stood up for the a small creature in the classroom. She then went home and late at night called his dad. She found out that night his Dad woke him up and they had ice cream.  A year or so later (I think) she found out this particular students Dad had passed away. She still meets with this student and he told her the best memory of his Dad was eating ice cream that night.

Its amazing to think how that small moment had impacted the students life.  Its connections and stories like that that allows speaks for our professions.

I am not too sure if I have a story that motivating but the one that comes to mind is a story that has happened a couple of years ago. I was taking students to an outside workshop and all of a sudden I heard my name being called, "Yo Mr So!" I turned around to be greeted by three tall grade eight students. They looked at me and said you don't remember me? I said no I do, you just weren't six foot tall 200lbs in grade four. We had a big laugh and connected on how they have been doing. Its great to see previous students and how they remembered us even after all of these years.

We have all had that fantastic teacher that has motivated us to go beyond our capabilities. This is why when Joanne said, "What have you done to improve our profession?" It hit home.

I then received this tweet from a colleague Monica Chadha:

This is another discussion to have. As educators we have the power to change perspectives. We are the best that this profession has to offer and need to showcase that.

Teaching is an amazing profession. It has many hardships and struggles but many joyous moments.  Like parenting, I have never regretted my decision to be a teacher.

I write this post not to have any words of wisdom but a thought to have a aha moment and share some stories. It would be amazing to collect these stories of success and share them. Like Joanne said we are the face of the profession and the best advocates of change.

My questions to you:

1) What do you do in the classroom to help advocate for our profession?

2) Do you have any stories of success? 

3) What can we do to promote our profession and make it better?

I can't wait to hear your thoughts.

Monday, 3 November 2014

A Reflection on Assessment

In a couple of days I will be presenting at Bit14 with Aviva Dunsiger. Our presentation is bridging the divide: Opening our four walls. However, I digress from my blog title. The reason why I am writing this is because I was also asked to co-facilitate a discussion with Brian Aspinall on assessment in a changing 21st century learning. This is going to happen on Thursday at 10:00 in the learning commons.  It is a free forming discussion but I thought I would get the ball rolling with some of my own thoughts and more importantly questions.

First of all with our assessment document in Ontario (Growing Success) there is a big emphasis on assessment for learning, as learning and of learning; with a large focus on assessment as learning and for learning. This is a big shift for many of us teachers who before this did a lot of assessment of learning. Not to say that this isn't important but that there has been a big shift in thinking about assessment.  This shift also aligns strangely enough with a wider acceptance on qualitative data versus quantitative data.  That observations and discussion are just as valid and important as the number that we can collect.  Which brings me to the reason for our learning commons discussion.

The discussion came about when Brian made a post about a brand new app call Photomath. Basically its an app that can do algebraic equations for you. The question that Brian raises is what are we assessing when an app can do the math for us? Should we be assessing basic skills like this?

My response to this was there needs to be a shift to not what is the answer but how do you know the answer is correct. It reminded me of the calculator debate when I was in school. I still remember this movie we had to watch in grade eight and the two children were adding up some money. One of the girls takes out a calculator and clearly gets the wrong answer but strongly argues that she is right. When asked why, she states because the calculator told me. It turns out that the calculator was running low on batteries and if you used basic common sense then you would have known the answer was wrong. The point wasn't so much that she got it wrong but that there was faith in the answer because the technology told her so. The problem is that students then and now need to have a good conceptual understanding of the work before jumping into abstract thinking. They need to understand the process in learning.

The world has changed a lot since we were in school, heck even since I was in school (which to be fair was not that long ago). If you honestly look back and think about those school days, the information that we were given potentially would have lasted us our life time. To be fair the information our parents were taught did last them their lifetime. However, that is not so with the kids we are teaching. Technology has changed the way we use, process and understand the world around us. We live in a world were tomorrow has endless possibilities. The scary part is that I am preparing kids for a future with obsolete information and knowledge.  Which is why philosophies on assessment have drastically changed.

A couple of years ago I was giving a test to my students. I looked up and saw that my students went right to talking with their math partners, trying to solve the questions. I was about to stop them and state that this is a test I need to know what you know when I realized that I already knew what they knew. Because of teaching in a constructivist approach, I knew where they were struggling, what strategies they would answer, and how they would communicate. In fact I knew why certain students were talking and asking questions and I knew what next steps would be useful for them. This test wouldn't tell me this, in fact it was wasting two hours of time that I could be conferencing with my students and helping them move forward.

View image on Twitter
Students collaboratively working on creating success criteria for an assignment

Now I said I knew a lot, why?  The reason is that in my teaching I am always conferencing with students, individually, and in groups. I have honest conversations with them and ask them questions to test their knowledge. Based on their responses and work samples I am able to see where fit on a continuum of learning. In fact I can confidently say that I understand my students more from this method then I do with a summative assessment like a test that I would have traditionally given. Not only that but my students move faster up that continuum because of our conferences and reflections that are done everyday versus just studying for one test to then forget about it the next day.

For me it is more important to teach my students to be curators or data, critical thinkers, problem solvers and have creative/adaptable thinking skills.  I say this because the information I am teaching them will soon be obsolete.  Now please don't get me wrong and say that students don't need to have basic skills or test taking abilities. Unfortunately in this school system and society they still need those test taking skills and yes students do need to learn basic skills (arithmetic, writing, reading, etc.) but the emphasis shouldn't be on memorizing to retain for an hour but to go deeper with that thinking and be able to understand why we are using it not just knowing and forgetting.  

This brings me to my questions and ones that I hope everyone help can answer:

1) What assessment tools do you prefer and use in the classroom?

2) What skills are needed, as a teacher, to make assessment as and for learning effective for growing student achievement?

3) What do you think about the shift in assessment? Is it warranted? needed?

4) If we are moving to a more assessment as and for learning, how to we do this?

5) What is the biggest resistance to this change? How do we over come it?

I am really excited for this conversation as I think we are on the brink of exciting change in education. Would love to hear your comments and ideas about this topic, no matter what they are.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Making Global Connections

I have started a cool new school project with a colleague who I have never met.  It is quite an interesting experience. But one that I would do any time I was asked.

The project is all about global connections and though we are in the same province and to be honest quite close it still is a rich experience for our students.  The project started when I was contacted through twitter by Sharon Moskovitz.  She told me that I was recommended by others who I have made good connections with for some help.  This then turned into a great conversation about our classrooms and global connections. Now our two classrooms are doing various projects together.  The funny thing is that we still haven't met face to face. And even though all we have had is conversations over the phone and through google docs she is a colleague and connections that I cherish and love having.

This is what we have been doing: 

1) Planning through Google Docs: 

Through conversations over the phone, and google docs we have been able to plan this whole project. It has been quite an amazing experience. And yes we realize that we can use hangout but just haven't had time to set it up.

2) Introduced ourselves through Google Draw: 

3) Global Read aloud of "the Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane": 

             For this project the students have written each other letters to talk about their predictions and their questions.  The classes have also written the next chapter in the book. Our next steps is to take what we predicted and see if that will be correct. We are going to read the next chapter in the story and then compare it to the document.  We also plan on connecting each student with someone else and then have them write the next chapter, just like we did.

4) Global Math Projects:

        We also started a global math project. The students will be learning about "Right to Play". This is a great organization who is investing time into making sure all children have the right to play sports.  We also are exploring what sports various countries and cities like to play. We have a google form that we sent out to the world. The students will be comparing this data and drawing conclusions and hopefully making an action plan from it.

These are just some small ideas that we are working on. I know there are a lot more, so please if you have any let me or Sharon know. We would honestly love to hear from you. 

Global connections allow you to teach your students using real life situations and allow you to work with other classrooms across the world. It not only gives you really cool projects but it is such a rich learning environment for both the students and teachers.  As teachers our lives can get pretty busy and we can often isolate ourselves within our four walls but in my opinion when we open those walls up the learning and growth is so much richer.  Our students often do not get experiences to see outside of their community let alone be a part of other communities in their own country and around the world. We often talk about broadening the experiences of our students, there is no better way then connecting to various classrooms around the world.

Through this project our students are learning about each others lives and the lives of the world. They are seeing other peoples opinions and viewpoints and learning to collaborate with others who they have never met.

Our hopes is that they will become better at understanding the world around them and have a better appreciation for those close by.

Global Connections are lot of fun because they produce such amazing expereinces for teaches and students. I know that many of you do these types of projects would love to hear your ideas? What Global connections have you made? How do you plan for them? Any advice for me as a rookie? Any cool projects you would suggest next? Love to hear your thoughts.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Growth versus Fix Mindset: An #Engagemath PD reflection

Yesterday was a Professional Development Day for our Board (Peel). All of the schools (minus the balance calendar schools) where all busy engaged in mathematics and talking about effective mathematics instruction. However, the over arching theme was more about a growth mindset versus a fixed. Though I am in a balance calendar I was able to participate in Burnt Elm's PD session and thought I would jot down some thoughts about what we learned.  The session was run by Jason Wigmore (@Jaywigmore), Jackie Brown, Jane Hedi-Knapp and Judy Hyndman. I was ask to help with the planning and fielding the questions about math. Quite a new experience.

Now the title of the blog is Growth versus Fixed mindsets and our board has taken that approach for mathematics. Many of us grew up with the thought that math is a skill that only a few can handle, you either got it or didn't but this is a fixed mindset. Yes certain topics can be hard for students but that doesn't mean we cannot achieve understanding.

Take a look at this video:

if it doesn't work: 

What are your thoughts of the video?

In Peel or at least at the two schools I have done PD at this has been connected to the various evolution or reforms in mathematical teaching. For many (if not all) of us mathematics was taught a lot differently then it is now. This is very scary for some and often challenges our ideals and schemas. When these believes are challenged is when we often get resistance. At both Ray Lawson (had ours first week of Sept) and Burnt Elm, we challenged the participates to think about their own schemas and believes and to adapt a growth mindset to their learning.

Our session started with a review of Stein, Engle, and Smith's Orchestrating Productive Mathematical Discussions: Five Practices for Helping Teachers Move Beyond Show and Tell. We actually talked about their book but this article sums it up quite nicely. If you read the article would love to know your thoughts? What spoke to you about this article? What resonated as the most important point? 

I then was asked to tell a personal testimony of my mathematical journey.  I know that I have been preaching reform for some time now but I have not always felt this way.  Before I became a teacher I volunteered at a school who was just starting using reform.  For me this was a shock to the system. Math for me was never hard, in fact at this point in time I was taking my University Calculus class. I felt that if algorithms where invented then they should be used. I also strongly felt that steps and procedures could easily teach students how to do math. I was lucky enough to be pushed by an amazing principal who allowed me to question the process, give me research and see it in action. Its interesting to look back at this and see that really I was discovering these ideals through a constructivist approach: I had to explore, have a mentor and then experiment with my findings.  As time went on I noticed how students were achieving amazing results in mathematics and sustaining them but more importantly their attitudes towards math changed.  I saw all students engaged in lessons, learning math and being mathematicians.  The more I taught the more I saw these observations consistently happening.  Not only this but while teaching at Brookmede I was able to be a part of a school which consistently implemented Reform mathematics.  During this time not once did I have to review last years concepts with the students, I started each year with that years concepts. Yes I had students who were developmentally not ready for the grade but they all could tackle the problems, worked together collaboratively and loved math. To me that was enough.  I share this story because if I had a fixed mind-set and believed that the way I was taught is the best way then I wouldn't have seen the benefit of teaching through problem solving. Now that being said I am always revisiting my teaching practise and I think we always have to be. Growth is growth! Change must happen.

The session then turned into a great problem solving lesson.  One in which the teachers got to feel that disequilibrium that comes with learning mathematics.

After debriefing the problem we had a great discussion from a teachers perspective. The questions we discussed where:

1) Why were the strategies chosen in the debrief?

This brought out a cool discussion about levels or accessibility to the problem and talk.  A lot of the times when strategies are chosen its because we want to honour student voice but in reality we do have to think about the math.  The first strategy should be one that can have the most students engaged with the lesson. One that allows the most talk and will lead to the next progression of the lesson. It was during this time too that we addressed the thought that our goal should never be to get kids to jump from a basic understanding right away to the abstract, this is what causes the gaps in learning.  It is far richer to move them up to the next stage in development. To do this as a teacher we have to think through the possibilities and understand what our students may or may not accomplish.

2) What is the role of a teacher in this format?

3) What is the impact on the student?

After this session, the principal open the discussion up for general questions.  It was great to hear all of the questions being asked and it reminded me of the journey that I went through.  Let me highlight a few of these questions:

1) Are you telling me Algorithms are bad?
No I am suggesting that there is a lot of understanding that goes into learning algorithms that many of our elementary students do not have.  We need to think about the middle piece that goes into the learning of math.  We often forget as adults all of the processes that we had to go through to learn a concept.

2) What about facts?
I know that I have answered this question before and it always gets me that people associate Reform with not teaching facts. In fact as we have discussed in #engagemath there is a balance and yes FACTS ARE IMPORTANT. One needs facts to solve math but how we go about learning facts is a different matter.  Jo Boaler suggests that fluency does not mean speed. In fact I would suggest that speed is a fixed mind set. A mind set that can often discourage children from learning math.  I teach facts through games which does three things. One it teaches fact recall. Two it teaches communication, understanding and strategy and three it build relationships. Here is a link to my math games.  

3) What is the most important aspect of setting up a classroom like this?
Classroom setup is vitally to building problem solvers.  Students need to feel comfortable, held accountable and know that mistakes are learning opportunities.  I always find that the best way to do this is wait.  Waiting time is so under utilized as a teacher. We want to fill the void but if you just wait one more minute longer you will be surprise at what students say. Here is some things that I have collected on math talk.  

Overall,  it was an amazing PD session at both Burnt Elm and Ray Lawson (though Ray Lawsons did not happen on Friday). Peel teachers continue to be amazing both in their thinking and sharing.  When I do talk about math I am reminded the learning that I had to go through and I know that we are all in various spots but keep that growth mindset not only for your self but your students too. That being said I would love to here your thoughts on anything discussed here:

1) Reform Mathematics

2) Growth versus Fixed Mindsets

3) Teaching through problem solving

4) Five practises

Also if you have any questions or comments please contact me or leave them below.