Posts tagged thinking classroom
Engaging with our PLN

Do you have a Professional Learning Network?  Is there a group of educators with whom you enjoy connecting with, who push your own thinking and expose you to new ideas?  We like to connect with as many people as we can online. One of those people is Matthew Oldridge, an educator who is currently on secondment to the Ministry of Education.  He tweets about mathematics, or education, or pop-culture, or his family. We enjoy his online presence because it isn’t one dimensional, he is great at letting people in and showcasing the fact that yes, he is a human when he isn’t teaching.

Matthew recently posed a series of questions on his blog which he challenged his own PLN to think about and respond to.  These are the types of questions that The Shift likes to think about and, by speaking about them, coach others into thinking about them too.

The Shift sat down and talked through each question and have responded to the ones that we felt we had the most to contribute.  If anything we says resonates with you, take the conversation online or respond in the comments below.

What has been your most powerful pedagogical moment?

calculuswheel.gif

It was probably attending the Deeper Learning Conference.  The experience peeled away a lot of the movie magic that was applied in the documentary Most Likely to Succeed.  Were students completing high quality projects? Yes.  Were they also being taught curriculum in a setting we might recognize?  Absolutely. The fact that students were doing both made this moment so powerful.  We love teaching students about math and art. We don’t love that we have to take the subject we love to teach about, and more often than not measure that learning through a timed test or static project.  We’ve often wanted our students to show us their learning in different ways but were never fully satisfied with the tasks we would give them. Attending Deeper Learning and visiting High Tech High convinced us that projects that integrate learning across subjects, that force students to dive deeper into their learning, and have students exhibit their learning in public ways were possible.  It’s something we would love to help other teachers try.

What changes do you want to see in curricula around the world?

The greatest overall change we hope to see change in curricula is one that values depth over breadth.  There can be a great deal of stress and anxiety that comes with trying to cover all the topics in a curriculum so packed with content that they have no time to go deep on anything.   If curricula had less specific content to cover, what could that space allow?

  • It could allow for students to go deep with their learning.  Removing that stress of breadth of curriculum would allow educators greater flexibility to bring students as the leader in the curriculum

  • Going deep with curriculum would enable bringing student voice and student identity.  Simply put, not cramming in content would allow flexibility and space for students to see themselves reflected in the curriculum.  

  • That space would give time and space to uncovering curriculum from multiple viewpoints.  Understanding and building empathy for many points of view, so that one story doesn’t become the only story.   

What do you think is the purpose of education in this day and age?

The world is changing at a blistering speed and the model of education we need to prepare students for that future can no longer rely on developing young people for a singular, defined career.  We don’t know what the world will look like when these learner will reach adulthood, the purpose of education should be to do a better job of preparing for a changing world, rather than a defined one.   How might we empower students to find their passion? What opportunities can we provide to students so that they are motivated to learn? Education should foster creative, problem seeking, collaborative, empathetic citizens that can adapt to our changing world.  

What would you like to see change the most about education?

Let’s start with students.  Like we said in the previous question, the change we would like to see for students is education that puts students in the drivers seat, with students empowered to find their passion.  If we can empower students, they will feel their voice is heard and reflected in their learning. A single story is replaced with many stories and many voices and with that students we feel more ownership over their own learning.

For educators, the change we would most like to see is a community of sharing, supportive educators, with silos created by walls, schools, departments all melted away.  Education is stronger when it is done together. No one should ever feel that they are done learning or growing and everyone needs a coach or mentor. Our hope is that, moving forward, education becomes a much more collaborative act.

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On both of these fronts, we see signs of hope.  Through maker education, equity work, design thinking and the thinking classroom model, we see a shift towards students uncovering the curriculum through play rather than being treated like empty vessels to be filled with content.  On the educator front; organic professional learning networks, the twitterverse, and online sharing are creating cracks in those solitary silos of teaching. We’d love to normalize educators being in each other spaces, co-teaching and learning together.  After all, how can we expect students to learn how to work together as adults, if they never see other adults collaborating and problem solving together.


Note Taking in a Thinking Classroom
I came across a thread on twitter a month or so ago.  It was about a professor who discovered that her students had spent all semester collaborating on one large google doc.  They took notes together, asked and answered questions of each other.  It was a great example of collaboration.


And I thought to myself, “I wonder if my students would be willing to try something like that”.  I knew I’d be running a classroom where students were up at the whiteboards daily, working on problems together.  I also realized that this might impact their ability to take coherent notes.

So, at the start of this semester, I created a mostly blank google doc and shared it with my students.  I provided the first few lesson titles and suggested that they use this space to collect their thoughts about the days activities.

What they created in two short weeks has surpassed all of my expectations.  Over half of my students contribute to making this document, something I hope to improve upon in our second unit.  It was interesting watching how the document evolved and when I made suggestions for improvement I was shocked at how quickly the students addressed that feedback.


I wonder why some students opted to not contribute.  Perhaps the students were not confident in their abilities, so were worried about contributing something that was “wrong”.  Maybe they were more comfortable being consumers, rather than producers.  It will be easy enough to check in with them at the start of Unit 2 and hopefully I can convince them to move out of their comfort zones.
Cycling Back to the Beginning
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.

After playing with Barbie Bungee, Dandy Candies and some intentionally frustrating algebra problems we decided on our next focus:  We wanted to use ratios to help drive home with the class the need for more formal algebra.

A respectable ratio
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.
Why the heck did I do that?
“Why the heck did I DO that?”  


Have you ever found yourself asking that question after teaching a lesson?  I did, a week or so ago.  I delivered a classic “powerpoint”, with teenager eyes glazing over but I’m powering forward and getting through my slides because “that is the lesson”.  Immediately after finishing the period, I realized I messed up. Students had probably retained 5% of the information that I just talked at them about.  This stung a little, especially since what I just did flew in the face of my current “WHY” as a teacher.


One iteration of the creative process we are playing with.
Let me back up and give you a bit of context.  I’m an art and photography teacher and my colleagues and I are really pushing hard to reimagine the creative process.
WHY are we doing this?  We are finding that when students’ experiment within the creative process and are not evaluated, they engage more in the risk taking and truly embrace their creativity.  Being set up as an experiment, students are taking pictures while genuinely curious about how the shot will turn out, not because the teacher expects something specific to happen.  We ask students to take LOTS of photos.  With curiosity driven outcomes, not mark driven outcomes; where failure has no real consequences and is only a learning tool to encourage students to try again, our classes have been a lot more free in their willingness to try creative experiments.  We are responding to Sir Ken Robinson in our own way and trying to right a wrong.


In photography, we have been working on using a series of active daily shooting challenges to get students out and experimenting.  The goal is this: by getting students to experiment and create with cameras in their hand FIRST before we get into the technical specifics of the camera, this will set the stage for students to uncover the curriculum, not the teacher covering the curriculum.  The challenges work around an idea or a technique, each day uncovering a different aspect of the topic.  I have got to say, these challenges have been going really well; the class gets into a groove, knowing that each day, we will be directing our focus to something different.  It is kind of like a Photography Workout of the Day (WOD).  These Shooting Challenges aren’t evaluated, so students are given permission to fail.  At the end of the week, students select their Photo of the Week, share and post it, and talk about what worked and why.  The emphasis each day is on shooting TONS, being encouraged to play, try weird things and to share with each other, with no expectation that “Today is the day you make a good image”.  The Photo of the Week is a tool for pause and reflection, to look back at those weird experiments and pull out something interesting.


Which brings me back to me messing up last week.  I had just spent the week prior structuring the course to allow for student centred discovery of the material, why did I decide to cap off the learning with some teacher focused “chalk talk”?  At the time, I figured that the students needed to know all the specifics, so I had better give it to them.  I only realized that I had messed up when I saw those glazed eyes. This was definitely the wrong approach.  So I was determined to improve the next week, when we would be tackling a different subject: shutter speed.


The following week, the class started to uncover the next topic in the same way, daily shooting challenges.  Lots of fun, lots of experimenting.  

To cap off the learning, students again choose their “Photo of the Week”, and instead of me talking at them about the ins and outs of shutter speed, I pulled inspiration from a sketchnote created by Laura Wheeler in a tweet I had seen a day before:




I randomized groups by picking playing cards, put up large paper on the walls of the room, and gave students key words for students to group and arrange in a way that made sense to them.  Then I floated and watched as the students started to pull together their learning on their own terms.  I encouraged them to access the information posted to Google Classroom and to Google Search other terms or techniques they were unsure of.  It was great to see students debating and discussing how to lay out their mind map and making connections to their learning in the past week.  What they were putting up on their mind map wasn’t always correct, but that was an opportunity to clarify and start a discussion.  
Students spent their time discussing, mapping and organizing their understanding


What I took away from the last couple weeks in photography class, was that TRY, FAIL, LEARN isn’t just for the students.  As teachers, we need to be more comfortable failing, reflecting and sharing.  Its great to share our amazing home runs on social media and it is also important to talk about when things DIDN’T go as planned.  Let’s open up our classroom, talk to others, share our experiments (failed or successful) with other teachers and let’s start to talk openly about our practice, warts and all, because if we do, we will become more creative and more dynamic in our classrooms and in our schools.  So how about you?  Can you think of when a lesson, a unit, a project went seriously sideways?   How did you pivot and save the lesson, or what did you do differently next time?