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.


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!


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?


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.



Solving Current Events: Math, Design, Global Connection

Who knew Facebook actually could be inspiring?

A friend recently posted this video

And then the wheels started to turn when I saw this picture…


How many lifejackets are there? What area is taken up by life jackets? Ooohhhh…I see rectangles, trapezoids, and triangles.  I can connect what we have been studying in geometry to what we are moving on to next: ratios and unit rates. Not only is there math, but  we can write, do some design thinking, and develop a greater understanding of the greater world. Here is the lesson. Please feel free to comment. All ideas are welcome.

Before doing the math lesson, I might have students read one of the two articles and notice and wonder about some images.

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I would then show students this image, asking what they notice and wonder. We might record their noticings and wonderings using Poll Everywhere or Pear Deck, or I might chart their ideas on chart paper. I like using technology because then everyone is able to share at once, but I also like when students share ideas orally because it tends to generate even more and creates excitement in the classroom.Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 12.19.34 PM

We would then zoom in and add new noticings and wonderings.

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and zoom in even more to finally see what is actually there.

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Now enters math… I would start our math class telling students it is time to think like a mathematician and have them ask some mathematical questions.

From the list we generated I would hope that these two would arise. Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 12.21.13 PM

Then I would ask what information do you need to answer those questions. We would create a list of information that is needed and then give them the following information.

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Screen Shot 2016-03-11 at 10.32.47 AMNow comes the fun…planning, persevering, and solving. After students have been working for a bit, if I notice a lot of struggling, I might stop them and ask them…Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 12.21.50 PMScreen Shot 2016-03-09 at 12.38.27 PM

If students are still struggling, or for those students that need additional supports, I might share with them the shapes I saw and let them work form that.Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 12.23.57 PM

After students were given time to solve for the two questions, we would share out strategies and engage in Mathematical Practice #3: Critiquing and Justifying.

I would then share with them the data that was in the article:

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At another time, I would then ask students…Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 12.22.19 PM

We would engage in some creative design thinking and come up with some uses for 450,000 life jackets. I would then share the video that inspired this lesson and we would read. this article.

Lastly, here are a few extensions…

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Here is the Ratio and area lesson Refugee if you would like to use it.

As I write this all down, it feels long.  I wonder what I might change. What do you think?

Choral Counting: So Much More than Counting

When you hear the word “counting” your mind quickly goes to primary age students. You see the kindergarten students counting, the 1st grade students counting, but what about 6th graders?

Our school is trying to target students’ needs by having tw,o 30 minute target times (RTI), to help move students forward.  My Tier 3 group needs a lot of work with number sense and they had been asking me to work with fractions, so I decided to do some Choral Counting with them. (The next day I did choral counting with my whole class. I love things that all students learn something from.) I thought it would be a great way for them to work with fractions, while also engaging students in SMP 3.

To be fair, we have done a lot of work this year with patterns: number patterns with the 100s chart, Pascal’s triangle, the multiplication chart, visual patterns and growth, and structural patterns in equations. Actually, we look for patterns everywhere…in the books we are reading, social studies, science, and across disciplines…we are becoming pattern seekers. This was completely evident during a choral counting lesson that I did with fractions.  Patterns and relationships are so important to learning.

We started off…” We are going to count by 2/3 starting at 0.” I had planned how I would record the pattern and thought about what relationships the students might notice: patterns in a column, the denominator remains the same, the numerator is changing by 2 (I wanted to start easy, to build success and ease their working memory so that they could really focus on the relationships.) We started counting. (I was nervous that this was going to be too easy for them.) Hmmm…they were getting stuck in a few places and then I was reminded how important counting is. We are working on fractions, but at the same time we are reviewing multiplication facts, skip counting, and number sense in general. We then had 3 rows completed and I stopped. “What do you notice?”

“We are skip counting by 2.”

“Turn to your math partner. Do you agree or disagree with that statement?”

We then discussed this as a class. Many students agreed and then we got into the discussion of the numerator and denominator. Whoa! Misconceptions have surfaced!

Then a student stated, “We are not counting by 2s, we are counting by 2/3.”

“No, we are adding by 2s. See,” and a student points to the numbers in the numerator.

“If we are counting by 2s, then we should be able to add 2 to the previous number to get the next number. That doesn’t work.”

Ahhh…we have an argument going on. Great! So, I ask the students to sit with their partner and prove or disprove that we are adding by 2.

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After some drawings and equations the students come to the realization that we were not counting by 2, but we were counting by 2/3. Though, they all agreed that the numerator is changing by 2.

Then a student said, “I noticed that if you look diagonally down toward the right, the numbers are increasing by 14/3 .” I asked “Is that true for every diagonal?” We tested it out? Yes. “But, why does that work I asked?” Again the students turned to their partners and discussed.

“Well, we are counting by 2/3 and so from 2/3 to 16/3 we keep adding 2/3. That adds up to 14/3.

I write what she said… 2/3+ 2/3 + 2/3 +2/3 + 2/3 + 2/3 + 2/3= 14/3

“Actually if you just multiplied the fraction by the number of times that is much faster,” a student shouts out. Ahhh, yes now we were connecting their previous knowledge about addition and multiplication with whole numbers to fractions.


We continue to look for patterns and notice the relationship down the column, moving diagonally from right to left. We talked about adding and multiplying fractions and then also subtracting fractions if we moved backwards.

Then I placed some boxes in some areas below the 3 rows and asked students to determine which numbers would go into those boxes? They used all the patterns we discussed earlier to determine which number fit and critiqued each other’s reasoning and pointed out more efficient ways.

What I love about choral counting is that it surfaces some misconceptions, allows us to discuss operations, vocabulary, and relationships between numbers. It is not threatening. Every child feels successful and we can really work on justifying their thinking and critiquing the reasoning of others.

Lastly, it is so important how I record students thinking. I have been thinking about this a lot and color has become my best friend. The best statement at the end of our counting session as we looked at the finished board.

“We all know what we were doing, but if someone walked in right now, they would have no idea what all those circles and lines were. But, it looks so cool.”

It looks cool to me too because it reminds me of the rich discussion we just had.

Making connections and looking for patterns. It is so much more than fractions and counting. It is learning how to make sense of the concepts we are exploring.

The Tug-of-War between Program/Textbooks and Student Learning

I have always hated the focus on programs or textbooks.  When a district adopts a new program we are told, “You need to do the program to fidelity”. What does that mean? Shouldn’t we be meeting students where they are and guiding students in the learning process? How can a single program be the right path for every student? I hate the term “fidelity to the program”! What about fidelity to individual students’ learning?

I recently had a meeting with the 6th grade teachers in my district and we had to discuss 1 of 4 topics: program assessment, program pacing and planning, differentiation, and program technology. I am not sure why we were doing this? What outcome was expected? But, It was through this discussion that I noticed people, myself included, allowing the program (in this case the textbook) to make their instructional decisions instead of they, the teachers, making the instructional decisions based on their students’ needs. And, when they did, there was an underlying sense of guilt of not following the program or of doing something wrong. That frustrates me to no end. What it comes down to is people want to follow directions and do what is right. But, my question is what is more right? Is it to follow the program or to follow students’ needs? (That was rhetorical. 🙂 ) We need to remind ourselves that we must do right by our students and not the program.

This made me reflect on content understanding, content standards understanding, and student readiness understanding. This is what we need to focus on because the people that understand content and standards deeply, have a much greater ability to differentiate and meet students’ needs. I can see where students need to be and a path of how I can get students there. In my conversations with others, they have indicated they don’t see the goal. They don’t see the path. This is a vital piece.

Created by Jason Zimba

The past two years in our district when I was a TOSA, we were really focusing on this: learning the CCSS for math, and we were deepening our content knowledge in math as we learned about Number Talks and mathematical reasoning with CGI. We were scratching the surface. (Maybe I left too soon, but maybe being thrown back into the classroom was the best thing. Only time will tell. ) People were struggling and they were overwhelmed with the planning of math. At times there was too much struggle, and thus the district decided to adopt math texts, both with good qualities. Both have some strong mathematics.

I am now back in the classroom after supporting teachers through that process and we have a newly adopted program. I am now hearing teachers battling with “following the program”. It is clear that their gut is telling them what their students need and instead of addressing those needs, they are “following the program”. Teachers, or the majority of teachers, have dropped Number Talks even though they noticed the benefits and the power they had for student learning. I spoke with one teacher yesterday, “I miss Number Talks,” she said. “They (students) got so much out of them.” My response?

“Do them! Take something out that you don’t feel is as impactful and do a Number Talk in its place.”

But, I can’t judge. I catch myself doing the same thing. Number talks changed the way I saw math and taught math when I was first introduced to them 3 years ago. CGI was then the next catalyst for me…focusing on students’ mathematical thinking and using what they know to move their learning forward. But, how many Number Talks have I myself done this year?  A few, but not as many as I should have. Have we done a lot of great math? Yes! Have we done some things just because I wanted to stay on pace with my team? Ughhhhhh….I have to admit it. Yes. Am I teaching in a sequence I don’t agree with? Yes.

There is this underlying pressure to stay on track with a program, but I know my students better than the program, and need to do what they need, not what the program is telling me they need. I feel conflicted. I want to teach with the sequence I came up with two years ago. I want to teach and move with my students. I can do this. I have the knowledge to do this. But, I am suppose to follow the same textbook and chapter tests as everyone else. So, I follow the pacing, I use components of the textbook (the really good problems) and I open up some of the other problems. I work with my students’ needs and do alternate math work two days a week and I differentiate with open problems and needs based grouping at times too. But, I can do better. I will keep working.

Differentiation is hard. But, it is especially hard if you do not know the content in depth or you do not know the progression of learning students need to take. Having studied math education in depth over the last few years (I am not an expert), I know the progression of mathematics learning (always more for me to learn), I have things in the back of my pocket (always more that I can learn) that I can pull out when we are discussing a concept that allow me to take a step back or a step forward when needed. But, I know that is not the same with others. I compare it to my science teaching this year.

I have only the most surface level understanding of cells: cell structures, their functions, and what the progression of learning is. Thus, I really struggle with leading a discussion on it. I don’t know what questions to pose, what are prerequisite skills, really how far my 6th graders are suppose to go in the topic, and all of that makes it really hard to teach.  I have been researching cells, watching videos, doing what I can, studying NGSS, but I am only minute ahead, not even a day ahead of my students. I then run out of time to plan the best way to help my students acquire the information and use it. I have done some good things, such as our inquiry about the hydrogen peroxide and chicken liver and potato, but I didn’t follow up with the depth that I know I should have.

I will be moving on to a unit on currents soon, and I will have a program for that. It will be interesting to use a program in a content area I am not strong in. Will it be the key to allowing me to support my students effectively? Will it be a vessel for my own learning? How many of my own instructional practices will I use instead of the program’s recommendation? Will I just follow it or will I break from it when I sense the needs of my students?

The tension is great. It is easy to know what the research says. It is easy to say what to do. But, doing it is a whole other level. I will get there. I will keep exploring, reflecting, and ultimately find the right balance.

This past week, I set a goal to know my students more and focus on them. What I found was I did a much better job of “teaching”. I wasn’t as worried about making sure I was teaching everything, but I really tried to make sure that they were carrying more of the cognitive load than I was. I decided it was more important for them to process and think and have the time to do that, than completing everything that I felt we needed to complete.

As I have said many times over and over again…it is not about all the skills, facts, pieces of knowledge, but it is about the learning process and the critical thinking skills; the practices of learning that are most important. I just have to keep reminding myself about this and focusing on what my students need, not trying to do it all.

How do you make sure you are meeting your student’s needs and not just following a program?

The tension is great.

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.