Education and a Global Society

I recently watched Gordon Brown’s Ted Talk,

“The power of our moral sense allied to the power of modern communications and our ability to organize internationally. That in my view gives us the first opportunity as a community to fundamentally change the world.” -Gordon Brown

As I reflect on that quote and the competencies required of individuals to change the world in this way, I am reminded of how educating young people can play an important role in developing a truly global society. I see 3 competencies that are vital: ethics, communication and action; with this comes the need to understand multiple perspectives and cultural differences/similarities. What does this look like in elementary school?  How do we develop empathy and as Jason Silva mentioned in The Big Picture, extend our gaze to develop a massive transformation of consciousness?

I hear it everywhere… the purpose of education is to foster the ability to think critically and develop skills to be a productive member of society. But, I have also heard (especially in this age of high stakes testing) that the purpose of school for your children is to develop  basic skills.  Students absolutely need basic skills, but can’t we help students acquire those skills in ways that build a moral compass, empathy, communication and the desire to act? 

What I very much appreciated in the article Setbacks Aside, Climate Change Is Finding Its Way Into the World’s Classrooms by Beth Gardiner was the idea of focusing on, “the “handprint” of individuals’ beneficial actions, rather than the harm suggested by an environmental footprint.”  I sometimes worry that through news and current events we are depicting the world as very scary and unjust. Yes, we absolutely have many inequities and global problems, but I think if we start using the lens of what “handprints” are being left and what can we learn from those actions we might be able to turn some of these injustices into better learning opportunities for ways our young people can act.

On Wednesday, my class participated in a Google Hangout with Paul Salopek, a Journalist with National Geographic who is walking around the world for 7 years, following the path of early migration. If you have not heard of the Out of Eden Walk, check it out. And, as an educator check out Out of Eden Learn through Project Zero at Harvard.  It has been a great way for my students to connect their world with students in Dubai, Australia, and Eastern United States (the countries represented in our walking party).

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But, back to our Hangout with Paul.  One of his messages was human kindness is everywhere.  He stated, ”I’m being passed from kindness to kindness”. We have to remember this as much as discuss global problems.

Another way that we have focused on the “handprints” we can leave is when we studied teen activists.  I got this idea from Lucy Calkins’ Units of Study in Writing .  While students were reading about such issues as slavery, girls who weren’t allowed to go to school due to radical leaders and religious beliefs, or child labor, the focus that there were people out there acting and making a difference was powerful. Yet, while I was hoping they would be inspired and choose to act (I felt like I shouldn’t force them to and I’m not sure if this was the right choice), they have not done so yet.  My question is how do we move from knowledge about global problems to acting to change and rid the world of those problems? As I think about that, while they showed a desire to act, they have no idea how to start.  

We are starting small.  This next week, students will be choosing one thing that they can do to make the world a better place.  It can be small or large, but they need to commit to something. We will see how that goes, but I really want it to come from them, so I’m still thinking through this aspect.

Unfortunately, inequities are not just a global problem, they are a problem in our schools as well. When Gordon Brown spoke about how Olof Palme desired to abolish the poor and to let everyone have the chance to realize their potential to the full, it made me think about all the inequities in our schools: tracking, access to technology, access to powerful teaching and learning, etc. How are we doing at providing equitable learning experiences to all our students and are we providing all our students the chance to realize their potential to the full?  This reminds me of a blog post I just read by Kristin Gray, a math coach on the east coast, regarding RTI. I agree that we have to develop strong interventions for students. It is vital, but are we being equitable and just in how we are doing it? This is an area we need to focus on. The article Money, Race and Success: How Your School District Compares was yet another reminder of this.  We need to do a better job.

One way to improve equitable access to learning is through global education. When we provide all students with opportunities to interact with others and understand multiple perspectives, in addition to learning how to communicate in person, in writing, and online, while also developing empathy for others and providing all students with rich, relevant, meaningful tasks that foster critical thinking skills, we will be one step closer to developing a more just and equitable educational system and improved global society. 

Ahhh…always more work to be done.

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Solving Current Events: A Follow Up

Last week I wrote about a lesson I had developed from a video I saw about a volunteer in Lesbos using the materials of life jackets for bags. This is a reflection on how the lesson went with my class.

First of all, it was motivating, inspiring, open, and students had to persevere.

Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 6.40.46 PMThe day after I wrote the lesson we were not going to have math since we were going on a field trip, but I had 15 minutes before we left on the trip and I was able to engage students in some wondering. We went through the first slides and noticed and wondered, not thinking about math at all. Though, my students are now mathematizing the world, so a few mathematical wonderings came through.

 

Then that evening they read this article and were able to answer some of their wonderings.

The math extravaganza began. We took on a math lens and thought like mathematicians. Noticing, wondering and determining what information we needed.IMG_7390 (1)

I am always so amazed with the mathematical questions students are developing now. Determining what they needed was a lot harder than in other lessons we have done. Why? It was a big scale problem with multiple questions to solve. But, through conversation they came up with some good ideas.  I then gave the students the information they asked for and they were off!

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It was fascinating to watch how students approached the problem. Some just started tracing complex shapes, others grabbed rulers and drew precise lines, others drew free hand lines, but then as they saw their classmates using rulers, changed their minds. IMG_7387IMG_7380

They helped each other and after awhile all students were looking for shapes that they knew how to find the area of. I had a few students that really struggled with this and I wanted them to get to finding the area, so I provided them with my shapes.  Then they were off. It was a great way for some students to get additional reasoning with finding the area of shapes and it was through this problem that some really saw the relationships of different shapes to one another.

“I know how to find the area of triangles, so I decided to turn all these into triangles. There are triangles in every shape. ”

And then they solved….IMG_7386IMG_7388

Thinking, connecting, and then we needed a discussion. Can we find the actual area if we use the ratio 1 mm: 2 4/5m?IMG_7400We discussed how the ratio we were given was a linear ratio and we could use that for finding length, but to find area, we needed to create a new ratio of square millimeters to square meters.  And then we had some solutions…IMG_7402

We shared different strategies: converting all the lengths in millimeters to meters and then finding the area compared to finding the area in square millimeters and then converting to different units. We then found the median and mean of our results.

Then came the question: How many lifejackets are there in 40,000 square meters?

It was great to be able to review the use of ratio tables and to see the different ways students approached the problem, connecting the three different strategies. We engaged in the “Compare and Connect”  math discussion that is introduced in Intentional Talk by Elham Kazemi and Allison Hintz

And then there were the students who extended the problem…

I clearly am a terrible photographer… But did you know that 40,000 square meters is equivalent to 7 1/2 football fields, 91 1/2 NBA regulation basketball courts and about 1/2 of Buckingham palace?

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And if you were to lay pencils down in 40,000 square meters, you can fit 3,007,518 pencils. hahaha

Finally came…Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 12.22.19 PM

Hahaha, this is when I was reminded I work with 11 and 12 year olds. What would they do? “I would make a pile and build a huge slide on it.”

“I would jump in the lifejackets.”

“I would take them back to Turkey and resell them.”

“I would make a boat out of them and sell the boat.”

Clearly, we have fun seekers and entrepreneurs.  Next time, I would change the question to… What would you MAKE with 450,000 life jackets?

I then shared with them the video about how they are making bags out of the lifejackets and left students with the question. What extraneous materials do we have lying around and what useful object could we make out of it?

It was a two day lesson, but a lot of learning: using a ruler, calculating area, solving proportions, developing a plan, comparing and connecting, and persevering.

 

 

Global Math

I love to travel.

I love teaching math.

I love when I can turn travel into a math lesson.

On December 26, I had an urge…an urge to travel, so I jumped onto Kayak to see where in the world I could go that would be a decent price. Ecuador? Nope…too much. Japan? Whoa…this might be it.  Leave tomorrow? Sure, why not? So I went for it. I booked my flight and was ready to go.

But, that is not all. I was celebrating my most random last minute trip with a friend and her husband said, “Babe, why don’t you go too?”

“Yes! Yes! Yes!” was all I could say. Short story…we booked her a flight too!

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On December 27, we were off on our adventure to Japan. For the global wanderer in me, I have 3 words…I love Japan!  I never knew I would, but I am definitely going to go back there and spend some time observing schools and learning about their educational system, especially math instruction. I have always been fascinated, but now I HAVE to do that!

Well, our trip was amazing, but when I can combine the mathematics that my students are learning with a trip, it makes it even better. First idea…travel distance to Japan using rates. We had just started working on ratios before I left on the trip, what a perfect introduction to unit rates using miles per hour.

My plan…make it a game. Where in the world did Ms. K and Ms. S go? Giving students the average speed, the time to travel, they can determine the mileage.  We will do a little noticing and wondering. Have them determine what information they might need. Then I will give them the data and off they will explore. After they figure out the mileage, I will give them maps and they can try to guess where we went using their knowledge of ratios. My goal will be for them to understand what a rate is and how unit rates can be useful. I definitely made it complicated, but complexity is what makes it fun and my students would not expect anything less. See the video below.

A Japanese Holiday Room 15  on Vimeo. Password: japanmath

 

The second idea came when we were eating lunch and looking at all the Japanese coins. We came across1971japan5yenobv400

We had no idea how much it was. All the rest of the coins had the value shown, this one did not.

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We finally finished and paid. Ahhhh,  what did we get as a change? Yes, the unmarked coin. We paid with 2,000 yens. The bill was 1,682 yens. Our change….

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Ahhhh, a little algebra… 3 (100) + 1 (10) + 3 (1) + x = 318 yen

The unmarked coin is worth….

This will be a perfect warm up to keep working on writing equations with variables. Yay!

Lesson learned…staying home is relaxing, but traveling is fun and inspirational! Where will I go next?

 

 

 

Thinking and Engaging…A Week of Math!

What would school be like if every so often (or always) we didn’t race in the Daily Academic Decathlon: teaching  reading, writing, math, social studies science, art, engineering, music (oops….), PE, and technology?

dan-obrien-and-dave-johnson-before-the-1992-olympic-gamesI grew up watching Dan and Dave, but I bet they didn’t train for every event all day every day.  I bet they focused and went deeper in their training.

Yes, yes, yes…I don’t believe those are all isolated subjects and most aren’t subjects, but we do this in school all the time. I have completely gotten pulled into this and because of trying to do it all, at times we are accomplishing nothing (ok, that’s not true, but sometimes it just doesn’t seem feasible to do it all and then we are always a dollar too short.)

What would happen if we took a week and focused on becoming a scientist, an author, an engineer, a mathematician? What would happen if we just dove into a content area, topic, current event and engaged our entire being in it? What if we became mathematicians for the week? What if we, “play(ed) the whole game”  as stated by David Perkins  in Making Learning Whole? What if students came to expect that, “a large part of their learning in the subject area involved acquiring the thinking abilities and processes of the discipline, not just learning about it for the test.” as stated by Ron Ritchart in Creating Cultures of Thinking? What if parents would focus on the learning and not just the test grade or the completion of the HW assignment?

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Well, we went for it. We spent the last week as Mathematicians investigating math. Where did this idea stem from?

  1. I always feel crunched for time. I have 1 hour (ok…1 hour 15 mins…I never finish in the hour) that we must get our math in.  What would it be like if we could work on a problem until we were done instead of waiting to finish it the next day? What would school be like with no time limits? What if we took a break when we needed a break instead of when the bell rang? Who lives their life on a preplanned schedule?It is a little bizarre to be honest.
  2. I had just had a lot of conferences and was reflecting on the need for parents to experience the math that we do. I kept hearing, “I’m not good at math. My husband is the math person.” Ughhhhh….Makes me want to throw up.  Everything was about the answer.  I wanted them to stop and see that math is anything but boring and their children are completely engaged. So I thought, let’s open up the class for the week. Come in and do math with us any time you can.

So what did we do? We emerged ourselves in math. We played. We modeled mathematics. We looked for patterns. We read about Mathematicians. We explored the mathematics of ancient civilizations.

As Jo Boaler wrote in Chapter 4 of Mathematical Mindsets: Unleashing Students’ Potential Through Creative Math, Inspiring Messages and Innovative teaching,

When students see math as a broad landscape of unexplored puzzles in which they can wander around, asking questions and thinking about relationships, they understand that their role is thinking, sense making, and growing. When students see mathematics as a set of ideas and relationships and their role as one of thinking about the ideas, and making sense of them, they have a mathematical mindset.

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And I think that this “mathematical mindset” is really a thinking mindset.  No matter what we are doing, the fun comes when we think, question, and reflect.

As always, there were things that I loved and things I wish I had done better.

What I loved….

Each day we had a Big Idea and Details to help us focus

Examples…

Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 10.07.41 AMBig Idea:  Mathematicians create viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.

DetailsDetails:

  1. Use examples to prove a claim is true and non examples to prove a claim is false.
  2. Explain with words and evidence why a claim is true or untrue.
  3. Question others to find holes in their arguments or to better understand their argument.
  4. Use drawings, tools, and representations to support a claim.

Another day we focused on…

Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 10.07.41 AMBig Idea: Mathematicians look for patterns and relationships to make generalizations they can use.

DetailsDetails:

  1. Look for things that are repeated, things that are the same, things that are related.
  2. Question…How is what I am working on similar to….?
  3. Does what I am working on remind me of something else I have done? What is the relationship?
  4. Look for smaller parts that compose the larger problem. Are there patterns or relationships in the smaller parts?

We truly engaged in the Standards for Mathematical Practices and made time to think. As I look at this list from Ron Ritchart, I do think we have a classroom culture of thinking.  The biggest gift that this week brought us was the gift of time.Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 9.46.22 AM.png

from…http://www.ronritchhart.com/ronritchhart.com/Welcome.html

My other love was having parents join us.

father-son By the way, why is it that I could not find a single positive clip art of a parent and child doing math together. Reading? It’s all over the place. Math? It is always an image of frustration. Ughhh…

“Wow, I am having fun. I wish math was like this when I was a child.” Pretty much, what this mom was saying, was that she wished she was allowed to think and make sense of math.

After doing Andrew Stadel’s Post-It Three Act Task http://www.101qs.com/518-file-cabinet–act-1, a parent responded,”That was great. I went first to thinking I need to find the number of post-its and what is the easiest way for me to do this. Then I looked over at my son who was finding the entire surface area and then dividing by the post-its surface area. At first I thought, that is so inefficient. We had a great conversation at our table. Then I realized. Actually, he would have a better model. If the size of the post-it changed, he would easily be able to adapt for that. I on the other hand would have to recalculate everything.”

How awesome for students to learn with their parents?

After doing a visual pattern (from Mathematical Mindset), a Physicist (parent) said, “Wow, this is what I do all day long. We look for patterns and make generalizations.” Ahhh…thinking. Then he continued, “I need more time to wrap my head around this one though.”

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Another love…allowing our next learning be driven by student inquiry. 

During the first week of school, we worked on the Four Fours: Use four 4s to make the numbers 1-20.  They loved this, but were having trouble finding expressions equivalent to some numbers so I introduced to them factorials. Minds blown!

A couple of weeks ago, we were working on a visual pattern Screen Shot 2015-12-21 at 7.06.26 PM from http://www.visualpatterns.org (amazing amazing blog of patterns that Fawn Nguyen has compiled) and one student said,

“I wonder if we could use a factorial. I see 3, 2, 1 and then 1, 2, 3 with the 1 used twice.”

Another student responded, “No, it is 3+2+1 not 3 x 2 x 1 so that won’t work.”

“Oh, right”

“Ms. S, is there something like a factorial but for adding numbers in a row?”

Oh boy, I thought. “Yes, there is. We will definitely explore that. But, we need to do that another time.”

Well, our other time came during the week of math.  And, NRich came to the rescue with two great tasks to explore (Mystic Circles and Picturing Triangle Numbers ) and then an article the read.

We noticed and wondered for Mystic Circles, noticing the adding of sequential numbers. Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 10.28.12 AM.pngand then we looked for relationships in Picturing Triangle Numbers

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After, we went back to look at the two strategies for solving the Mystic Rose Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 10.47.53 AM

and students developed arguments for each strategy.

What I wish I had done better at….

Preparing students for having their parents in the class.

While we as a class have developed a classroom culture where mistakes are important and our goal is to learn and not just perform, that does not mean they have that culture with their parents. I had one child breakdown due to wanting to “perform” for his parent. He has never broken down in class, but I see this desire to “perform” and the pressure (self imposed?) really got to him.  This was a good wake up for me, as while we might be on the way to creating this culture, it is going to take a lot more work to bring it into every home.

I also wish more parents could have joined us. I know there was some fear, as one parent shared, “6th grade math is intimidating”. I just wish more could have come to see how open it really is. I need to figure out how to share this with more parents.

Connections, Connections, Connections…

We didn’t do a bad job on this. The connections we made throughout the week were incredible. We were connecting ratios to graphical representations and then questioning/wondering and analyzing if the visual patterns we have been working on are proportional. Do all graphs of equal ratios create a line through the origin?  We were connecting our work with visual patterns, to the work we did with triangle numbers.  We were connecting and comparing the many different strategies students used when solving Sugar Packets (which I adapted and probably made a bit too hard. Though, the students persevered and definitely engaged in some productive struggle.) and the Leaky Faucet. We were connecting the representations to equations to words. We connected and compared our base ten system and place value system to the Babylonian’s base 60 system and the Egyptians base ten, but lack of place value.We were extending ideas and connecting to the math practices.  We were deepening our learning by creating arguments for a claim being Sometimes, Always or Never.

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But, it was mostly oral.  I wish I had recorded the connections so that they were more explicit, and had the children record the connections they were making. I wonder if when we come back to class, we can look back on the various problems and explorations we did and make those connections explicit. They were explicit in my mind when I chose each problem, but I wonder how explicit they are in every students’ mind. I think this will make the week even more powerful than it was.

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 How can I create this type of week in my class every week?  Can I extend math on some days to allow for more processing/thinking time? Can I extend our time to write, so we aren’t constantly starting over? Can I really help focus our learning more on one topic, so we can go deeper and allow connections to be made? What do I need to add to make all the connections and thinking even more visible so that students can transfer to other parts of their lives?

It sure is a good thing I have 2 weeks to process this and develop a plan. Time to reflect is good. I will  make it happen.

 

 

The Ps: Painting, unPacking, Prepping, Planning

It is easy to forget all the many Detailsthat one must think of when getting ready for a new school year. I started working in my head in June and then began the work in my classroom in August. In June, I… Thus, I decided to take July off, but I was fearful of losing my ideas so I placed all my many thoughts into a Google Doc (click on the link to check it out) and shared it with my new team and some other colleagues. Now coined my “thesis” thanks to a teammate, it is a working document that we keep adding to.

August came and I entered my classroom…

I started by ridding my classroom of the desks.

photo 1-26 I want a classroom full of discussion, collaboration, and sharing. The first place that starts is with the design of the space. I am lucky that I have a principal who is supportive about redesigning classroom spaces to encourage innovation and collaboration. He let me take the old tables from the art room and gave me permission to paint them with whiteboard paint! 3 coats of primer, 5 coats of Rust Oleum White Board Paint, 2 helpers (thank you to Madi and my mom) and 2 days later I had beautiful white tables.

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Picture from the front of the room. The white paper in the back is my brainstorm of all the topics my students need to learn. My team and I worked from that to look for connections in order to start organizing our year. I’ll write more about that in another post.

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Picture taken from the back of the room.

Already, after 3 days with my students they have changed the way I am teaching and students are interacting. Do it! It is worth it! (Read all the reviews on Amazon and follow the directions exactly though.)

Here are some pictures of the rest of the room.

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We are starting the year by talking about the power of viewing the world from different perspectives and a not just a “Single Story”.

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Classroom library organized by genres. Our goal is to read 1080 books this year, 40 books each!

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Scholarly Traits: We can’t learn without strong academic mindsets. We add students’ names to different categories to recognize each other.

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Writing Process Board to keep track of which stage of the writing process all the students are in.

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This is where the math and science practice posters will be. We are learning about them inductively, and then we will make posters of each practice with the students as the models.

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My “Maker Space”. I’m so excited for students to start using this space and for our I-Cubed Hour (Inspiration, Imagination, Innovation).

My next post will include more of the planning for the beginning of the year and what we are doing the first couple of weeks: Depth and Complexity, Universal Theme of Power, A Week of Inspirational Math, Learning about Children’s Rights and Education around the World, Learning About the Brain, and Building a Community with Strong Relationships.

…and so it begins

I’ve been told that I should journal more times than I care to admit.

Yes, I’m always thinking.

Yes, I have a need to sort through all the thoughts.

Yes, I tend to share my thoughts with the people I work with.

Might they not want to receive my plethora of emails with my ideas or my “thesis” as one colleague put it? Hmmm… I can understand how the answer to that might be a yes.

But…journaling? It just seems so wasteful to write all my ideas down for only me, myself and I.  So, in enters blogging. At least there is a chance someone out there might read it, comment about it, engage in a conversation about my thoughts.

Why a nomadic teacher?

1. I can’t seem to last more than a few years in any one position, school, or city.

2. I am not just interested in one subject or one component of teaching…I drift.

3. When I grow up I want to be a nomad and just travel from one place to the next.

What will this blog entail? Not quite sure. But, I will guarantee that it will be nomadic, drifting from one idea to the next and connecting it all together: learning and the brain, math, global competency, writing, science, ridding the world of bad homework and summative grades that are not conducive to student learning, cultural proficiency, technology, engineering, and maybe even a little reading.

I have been completely inspired recently by Zaretta Hammond and her Book: Cultural Proficiency and the Brain, every single component of Cognitively Guided Instruction (How can you teach without understanding how a student thinks and knowing what they know? Read all 3 books if you have not! ), CCSS in Math- the battles, the challenges, the increased understanding that teachers have to have in order to teach it, Lesson Study (One day I am going to go to Japan and see this in action) David Perkin’s FutureWise: Educating our Children for a Changing World,  a More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger, Sandra Kaplan’s work about Depth and Complexity and Universal Themes (thanks Joanna!), and Global Competency (bring in the Asia Society), NGSS and this notion of starting with Phenomena and creating models, and finally the entire Maker Movement. Let’s create!

My goal as I enter my 16th year of teaching (man, I sound old) and back into the classroom after a 2 year hiatus as a TOSA is to create a program in which students are engaged in “life-worthy” learning,  questioning, using (not just obtaining) knowledge, making and creating, understanding multiple perspectives, collaborating and problem solving, developing a sense of self and developing an understanding of our greater world. I want to engage my students and myself in learning that is deep, relevant, and long lasting.

So here goes…back to the classroom, back to 6th grade. Let’s do this!