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: 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?

Goal Setting, Thinking, and Understanding

It has been some time since I last posted, but that does not mean there has not been a shortage of things to think about. While preparing for conferences, my inner conflict about grades versus feedback was in full force. The tension was great.

rope-tensionI had to assign a numeric score to report cards, but it often felt conflicting to our classroom focus on learning. Then came conferences and instead of always just focusing on students’ thinking, learning, how they were improving, and focusing on the new goals they created, I could feel our conversation more focused on the evaluation of skills.  It is really fascinating how difficult it is to change our culture of school from performance to true learning.

One of the things that helped us stay on track though, was that each child reflected on their learning over the trimester and we then created learning contracts. We focused our goals on reading, writing, math, and Listening/Speaking and our Norms. Each student filled out a Learning Contract Template.

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This was definitely not easy for all students to fill out, but the process of doing it was extremely valuable.

Some examples…Screen Shot 2015-12-06 at 10.31.20 AM.png

Student BScreen Shot 2015-12-06 at 10.28.12 AM.png

Student CScreen Shot 2015-12-06 at 10.27.15 AM.png

Student DScreen Shot 2015-12-06 at 10.29.03 AM.png It was clear who were independent learners and had internalized how to learn and which students still need support in thinking routines that can help them to learn and understand.

I am trying to figure out how to help them understand what actions they can take to meet their goals. That was really hard for a lot of students, which is really the most important component. What can I do to understand and meet my goal? It will be interesting when we revisit them, to see if they can develop any more specific actions to help them. I think I need to really make their thinking explicit and visible as they are doing it. I need to take the time to allow them to reflect and process.

Then came Thanksgiving break, I read Jo Boaler’s new book, Mathematical Mindsets: Unleashing Students’ Potential through Creative Math, Inspiring Messages and Innovative Teaching, and it was such a great time for me to read it.


It was very similar to her previous books, her articles and website, but no matter what, the message is so important and great to keep repeating.  This quote really hit me.

“Successful math users have an approach to math, as well as mathematical understanding, that sets them apart from less successful users. They approach math with the desire to understand it and to think about it, and with the confidence that they can make sense of it. Successful math users search for patterns and relationships and think about connections”

Excerpt From: Boaler, Jo. “Mathematical Mindsets.” iBooks.

As I mentioned, during my conferences I was getting pulled into talking with parents about math as discrete skills students needed, yet my goal is really the quote above. My goal is for all students to approach math and all subjects with the “desire to understand it”.  This is not an easy task. For some, the change is happening, yet for others they have spent 6 years in school passively doing school and to change that mindset has proven to be much more difficult than I was hoping. But I am not giving up.  See the next post.

This past week, I finally made time for the students to reflect on their learning  3 days.. I ran out of time not the others. I am so bad with time!!!! My goal is to get to 5, but 3 was a good start.

Each day, they were to reflect on our Norms by posting to our class LMS: Schoology. Screen Shot 2015-12-06 at 10.48.53 AM.png(adapted from Jo Boaler’s Math Norms…I added in what each might look like in different subjects as well since the students are in a multi-subject classroom.)


What is great, is that students are able to read each other’s reflections and their thinking is visible for all to learn from. Below are some of their reflections.

“I liked how ______ explained himself in math and that made me think a lot harder and able to figure out the problem.” -Student A

“Today I questioned my teammates work in math and I overlooked it, got into a conversation about what was right, and then figured out the right answer. I appreciate _____ for really trying hard in math and helping me and _____ find the right answer.” -Student B

“Today I thought about if it was always, sometimes, or never. On one question I said it was sometimes and it was always, so I learned from that and got the next one right. ______ made it make more sense when he proved his answer and that helped my.” -Student C

“Today during read aloud, I asked questions about words that I wasn’t familiar with in our story and learned lots of new things about Egypt.” -Student D

“I made a connection from the example paragraph to my Mesopotamia paragraph that helped me understand how to transition to different details.” -Student E

“The trait I engaged in was being perseverant. I was being perseverant because I kept going on finding a way to put a key word in my questions.”- Student F

“…But now I learned from my mistake and my brain just grew. : )” -Student G

I really think being consistent (consistency is so hard for me) with this reflection time might help some of my more dependent learners become more independent.

And then I started to read Ron Ritchart’s book, Creating Cultures of Thinking: The 8 Forces We Must Master to Truly Transform Our Schools.

ritchhart-cultures-239x300Wow!, I have so much to process and discuss with others about this one. Where do I start?

Ahhh, thinking…the culture of thinking. It really is the only way that students are going to succeed in life and I feel like it is my most important job to facilitate learning opportunities for them to engage in thinking.

More to come… reflecting on engaging students in the whole subject, thinking like a disciplinarian, and making connections.


…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!