Do you have a professional learning network (PLN)? When you are planning a lesson, thinking about pedagogy, or learning about something new, do you have a group of people you turn to for guidance and support? It used to be the people who worked in our teaching offices or schools that we would rely on the most. Today, access to social media gives us a much deeper pool of colleagues to draw ideas from. If you have an idea for a lesson, chances are there is someone else online who has done something similar and can help. So while The Shift has lots of people we rely on in person to bounce ideas off of, we also have a much wider PLN online that we can draw inspiration from. After June 4th and the #LoveMyHaltonSchool event, it would appear that this is true for many of us! Just how big is the PNL of teachers in Halton? How far does it reach?
Surprisingly, pretty far! There were almost 400 different twitter accounts active on Monday tweeting about why they love working in Halton. All together, they created 1,569 tweets that were seen by 162,000 people! Our messages of love were view over two million times. That’s a huge Professional Learning Network!
Importantly, it benefits our own wellness as educators to express gratitude for the things we love. There is shown to be strong links in positive psychology research between gratitude and improved mental health and happiness. There are even apps that are used to journal and track gratitude on a daily basis! (of course there is...there is an app for everything) So it is important in our working lives to take stock of our Halton schools, staff, students and community. Expressing our appreciation for these things can only make our day to day work easier. So thank YOU Shifters for brightening everyone’s day, and taking the time to share why you #LoveMyHaltonSchool.
It’s the last week before the holiday break. When I teach grade nine math my goal is to always wrap up the teaching of curriculum before the break. I do this for two reasons. First, so that we can spend two weeks engaging in review activities to help prepare for the final exam, which in this case is the EQAO. The second reason is so that we can play around with a final performance task that is a bit more open than usual.
I had no idea if this plan would hold up now that our grade nine course team was trying a blend of project based learning. When I step back and think about what our team has accomplished over these four months, I’m pretty pleased. We started the semester with a question that was very loosely defined, “Can we teach Grade Nine Math using projects?”. We took a risk and dove in.
We started with an activity that asks students “What is the ideal Mullet Ratio?” This is an activity that I first saw via Jon Orr on twitter but I’ve come to learn has travelled to us from Matt Vaudrey in California. In this activity students are asked to determine what is the ideal length of “party” to “business” in a mullet. It’s silly, students laugh, then they start debating, and then they calculate to justify if their opinions are correct. The two days we spent on this activity were hilarious.
Of course, we needed a suitable project to go along with ratios. We know from past experience that there are often challenging ratio problems on the Grade 9 EQAO. The team wanted to spend time working on different ratio problems in order to set our students up for success in January. We decided on introducing the class to Nana’s Chocolate Milk, another three act task by Dan Meyer.
We adapted things slightly to allow for students to complete a formal project. We asked our students to find their favourite recipe and then intentionally mess it up. They then had to “fix” their recipe and prove to us that they ingredients were still in the same ratio. We even asked them to think back on their work with linear relationships and create some graphs and equations for their recipe.
Bacon is ALWAYS the denominator
This one impressed me
After the students finished with “Nana’s Favourite Recipe” we realized that we needed to dive into the Analytic Geometry strands of the curriculum. We spent a good two weeks doing some formal instruction with our classes as this is probably the most formal component of the course. At the end of the two weeks we challenged our classes to create their own drawing in Desmos to show off what they have learned. We asked for drawings with 8 different lines, since that’s all our classes knew how to do with equations. We were surprised by the level of depth our students went to. One boy in my class asked me how to draw curved lines. When I wouldn’t tell him, he didn’t give up, rather he did some research on his own and then shared his knowledge with the class.
We have spent the past week trying up any loose ends or curriculum expectations that we did not quite cover. For the final two days before the break we will ask our students to play with cup stacking, running a project that is heavily influenced by Alex Overwijk and his Thinking Classroom. By the end of the week students will have created models of different cup stacking strategies, analysed them and extrapolated from their data.
That's some good cup stacking!
What came out of our experiment has been an unintentionally spiralled course. Algebra and abstraction skills became what we dialed down on but we didn’t spend all that much time on the details. Our students felt the need for the mathematics, asking for more efficient ways to do things. When we presented the cup stacking activity to them they were already searching for ways to create equations and models.
There were many days where the students led the class, posing interesting questions and then answering them. The teachers became facilitators of great discussions, parachuting in on different groups when they needed assistance or a push to go a bit deeper with their learning. Some days were great, other days were disasters. On the bad days, the team would go back to the drawing board, talking about what we could do better in order to help students uncover the curriculum. We tried something new and learned a lot in the process. I can’t wait to do it again next semester.
Matt and I are fast approaching our one year anniversary in this role. When we started, last February, with the roughest of plans. We were going to demonstrate how the Halton District School Board is building a shared culture of Innovation. How we did that was left, for the most part, up to us. No pressure.
We both really wanted to create our own Podcast, but some advice from Phil Davison and Cindy Cosentino led us to believe that it might be better to start with a Blog first. So we dove in, blogging and then eventually launching our “Case For Innovation…” video series, followed by a few Calls to Action. We’ve Shifted at The Barn, we’ve presented at conferences both inside and outside Halton, we’ve been vulnerable and silly. In short, we’ve tried our best to put our own individual learning on display.
Matt and I have a lot of fun in this role. We have a very fluid “to-do” list that gets pretty fuzzy around the edges. With lots of balls in the air it’s sometimes tough to judge if we are making progress. Most days we spend our afternoons together talking about what to post next, or perhaps we plan an upcoming visit to a classroom. We worry about how to create more secondary conversations, both on and off the blog.
Matt turned to me the other day and asked, “If we keep doing this, what does success look like in three years?”
To say I was shook up would be an understatement, because I don’t know what our success might look like. Many subscribers to our blog and lots of views on our videos would be nice, but that in an of itself doesn’t make us successful.
We’ve learned that Innovation is a process that leads to improvements to a product, process or understanding.
Given that definition of Innovation and that you are here reading this blog because (hopefully) you want to improve something in your practice, I’m curious what success might look like to you? If you follow along with us for the next little while, what would your success criteria be? How would you know if you shifted your practice?
In the end, my own personal success criteria is a moving target and I’m ok with that. I want to Make School Different and in three years time I’ll be happy if I can look back and see that change. I’d also be alright with us making a podcast or two.
I’d like to introduce you to Alex. She was a student of mine who graduated last June. I met her for the first time when she was in my Grade 9 Academic Math class. My first impressions of her was that she was a hardworking student who seemed to be interested in school. I don’t know if a teacher can ask more from a student.
It was midway through the semester when I learned that Alex was also a competitive diver. I’ll plead ignorance in that I didn’t really know what this meant, except for the fact that sometimes she missed classes for competitions. Every so often Alex would travel on a weekend to B.C. or Nova Scotia and miss Friday or Monday, or both. From my perspective, these trips didn’t impact her achievement very much. She was always on top of her homework and would seek me out when she needed to make up a test.
I saw Alex every once in a while when she was in Grades 10 and 11, but never taught her during that time. She’d be in “math help” sometimes, or I’d pop into her classroom one day when I was playing #ObserveMe. Some days she was happy, sometimes when I saw her she’d be frustrated with her academic progress. She was hard on herself, driven to do well, as she set high academic standards for herself.
I taught her again in Calculus and Vectors, a course students might take if they are heading on to University to study Mathematics or Science or Engineering. Occasionally, some students take it just for fun. In the class, Alex struggled to balance her diving schedule with her school schedule. She was stressed out about her semester and what to do in the future, unsure if her passion for diving was holding her back academically.
The performance task I gave for Calculus and Vectors was pretty open ended. Students could solve the two problems I had created, or make up two problems of their own to solve. In Halton, this task is only worth 5% of a student's overall mark, so I’d rather they not sink too much time into it. I also ask students to reflect about their school year, what worked, what didn’t and then finally tell me what mark they think they have earned in the course.
Alex surprised me. Watch her video and see if you are surprised too. Don’t worry, I’ve edited out the Calculus parts.
I had no idea that she was riding a train from Burlington to Scarborough every day to diving practice. I had no idea she spent four hours per day without WiFi trying to maintain her marks. I was blown away by the words she used and the ideas she expressed with her reflection. She was dedicated, she knew things took her longer to process but she didn’t blame anyone for that, she learned for the sake of learning. She understood that her part was a bit harder than it could have been but she appreciated the effort she had to use to make it happen.
It’s amazing to me, what I didn’t know about her individual struggles. I’m so glad I asked my class to reflect on their year because otherwise I wouldn’t have appreciated each student's individual journey as much. Our students have stories to tell, sometimes more than one. Listening to Alex reflect made me appreciate how complex those stories can be and how important it is for teachers to create a space where they feel safe telling their story.
Last year, Halton was able to send 25 teachers to the 2017 OAME Conference. There was lots of good learning and discussions during the three day conference. What many realized was that there wasn’t much of a secondary conversation after the conference. People were inspired, but what was lacking was a way to share that inspiration with other teachers in the board. Enter Janet Juby and Laura Gatey, who were inspired enough to propose a Halton Mini-Conference in order to promote sharing. Part of this mini-conference was a series of Ignite talks. If you aren’t familiar with the concept, participants get 20 slides that auto advance after 15 seconds, giving you five minutes to speak about one topic.
Constructing an Ignite talk is a challenge, as you are forced to be very purposeful with what you decide to share. I spent my five minutes speaking about Risk Taking and why I think encouraging our students to be risk takers is so important.
I was much more inspired by the other nine Ignite speakers. I was left with a list of things I want to learn more about.
Tammy Knetchel validated my feelings about Interleaving and Spiralling. She made me wonder what Interleaving might look like in other subject areas.
Erin Kinsella spoke about the need for Wellness in our classrooms. The more I explore the ideas of Wellness, the more I see it is linked closely to Community Building.
Stephanie Briggs shared a story about her teaching philosophy and her desire to convince others that thinking is always greater than memorizing.
What I really loved about the Ignite talks was how everyone focussed on personal inspiration, the teacher’s journey, their philosophy, their “why”, and not necessarily a strategy. Passion was on display all day long!
Hey there Shifters, Matt here with an interruption to your regular scheduled programming. You see, my fellow shifter, Jamie Mitchell was presented with a pretty huge honour today at school. Some of you may have already heard that he was awarded the Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence Certificate of Achievement. That is a kind of a big deal. Out of thousands of nominations, only 10 teachers in Ontario were awarded that honour! What I found really striking about the ceremony we just had at our school to mark the award, was in fact a student Maggi Djurdjevic.
Maggi went to the considerable work (it is a 21 page application!) to nominate her teacher and she spoke eloquently on why she nominated Jamie for this honour. She said that Jamie Mitchell was able to take a subject that she isn’t particularly strong in, math, and make that period the best part of her day. That is pretty awesome! Two more ideas really hit home with me when both she and Jamie spoke at the event.
Jamie Mitchell accepting his award from the student that nominated him, Maggi Djurdjevic.
First, I really saw the importance of connections. Jamie’s high school drama teacher was in attendance at the ceremony and Jamie told the story of how he got suspended in high school (for using some less than favourable language when sticking up for students he felt weren’t being treated properly). When he was suspended, he told his drama teacher with a heavy heart that he was going to miss some rehearsals because of his suspension and his drama teacher told him “This is why you will be a good teacher, because you will stand up for people for others who need support”. That powerful connection that teachers and educators can make with their students, recognizing their talents, pumping them up, and engaging with them as fellow humans on the same journey of life can make such a huge impact on students’ lives. I remember a similar moment of connection in grade 9, when Mrs. McCarthy, my art teacher, pulled me aside at the end of the year and pumped me up about my potential as an artist and offered me some art supplies to work with over the summer. A small gesture, with a profound effect. Time and time again, you hear that these are the stories being shared about the high school experience. Not the course, the project, the mark, but the relationships, the small conversations, that have can have life changing ripple effects in people’s lives. How about you? Do you have a similar story of connection in your high school experience? I am going to make it my goal next year to reach out to students one on one, acknowledge their greatness and show my appreciation for good deeds and good people. I think people can stand to hear more of that.
The second thought that really struck me was something that Jamie said when he spoke (off the cuff, I might add, mighty impressed!). He talked about a conversation he had with Maggi over how she was doing in class and he told her “The Mark you get isn’t you. How you approach life is YOU.” I would love to have more students hear that message! With so much importance placed on the mark in this education system of ours, it is a real barrier to real, joyful learning. It blocks true risk taking as a learner, because the students’ concern for that mark causes them to play the game of school to maximize their mark, not to go deeper in their learning. It also creates a divide in the relationship between teacher and student, as we are responsible for assigning a number to their efforts. This gets in the way of true mentorship that a teacher could offer students as they learn. I’d love to get to a place where we can more readily focus on the learner and the learning and not the mark. We should be placing more importance on resilience, risk taking, impassioned learning as ways to approach learning and to approach life. How about you? How often do you find the mark getting in the way of these goals?
Congratulations Jamie, on this huge honour! I’m pretty proud of you, fellow Shifter!
Yesterday was a great day. Matt and I spent much of our time simply watching the #LoveMyHaltonSchool tweets roll in. We laughed, we liked, we retweeted, we saw things that were happening in other schools and we talked about how to bring that greatness to our building.
And this is why we think sharing our best practices is so important. We both work in a great school, with supportive colleagues and students. But we can’t continue to improve as teachers if we only look within our building for inspiration. We have to broaden our horizons by looking outwards. Yesterday, everyone who participated by tweeting opened a window into their classroom or school.
Watching the tweets were fun, but we couldn’t help but wonder about the reach of the hashtag. Was a small group of teachers just tweeting at each other? Were we making an impact online or were we all just yelling into the void?
Well of course, there is an app for that. We found a free hashtag tracker and the story it told was impressive. By the end of the day 212 users had used the hashtag and sent almost 700 tweets. At peak times, we were sending 115 tweets per hour...breaking that down a bit, that’s almost two tweets per minute. Pretty impressive, but that’s not the best part.
Ask yourself, how many unique individuals do you think saw the #LoveMyHaltonSchool tweets yesterday? Think of a number.
Was it over 100,000? Because that is what happened. Over 100,000 unique individuals saw tweets yesterday about why teaching and learning in Halton is amazing. We think that, in and of itself, is pretty rad.