Category Archives: RTC 12 – Teaching as Inquiry
Term 1 holidays for me are now synonymous with ignition. For those not in the know ignition is a 2 day un-conference. You throw a 100 or so passionate educators in a room and MAGIC ensues.
When I look over last year’s post, I remember how super-charged I felt after attending the event. I know the learning in my class has changed as a result of ignition. As I mentioned in my ignite talk, so many of my great ideas came out of attending the event. Goodie buckets for the start of the year, the classroom redesign, even the submission came about through conversations and collaboration at ignition.
This year I came away with more questions than answers.
The more control I give over to my students, the more I realize how important integral those key competencies are. Learning what makes an effective learner and making those key competencies more than buzz word is a challenge for my class and I over the coming year.
Moving professional learning into the 21st century.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a terrible student when it comes to the traditional weekly PD. If something doesn’t hold my interest, then I will quickly wander off the task. However ask me to find resources to support teaching contexts or a new idea to implement in the classroom and I’ll jump into action.
With ignition even though I was tired after a busy and long first term, I was well aware I had given up my time and money to be there. There was no slacking off, there was engagement.
I can’t help but wonder how we expect teachers to create an individualized programme for our students when there is often little choice about how, who and what we learn about as teachers.
Should more time and money be freed up for teachers to make their own decisions about their professional learning?
How do we do this?
Secondary schools are a mystery.
The more I talk to secondary teachers, the more I realise I have no idea what goes on in schools after year 8. All I have to go on are my own memories which are well out of date. If I was to identify a weakness in the education sector, it’s that teachers and schools don’t talk to each other enough. This is particularly the case with the primary/secondary divide.
Are we short-changing our students by not communicating?
Do teachers collectively put too many problems in the too hard basket figuring next year’s teacher/s can handle it?
Moving out of the education sector
There’s always a risk when you bring a group of like minded people together that you get people agreeing with each other. As ignition matures, I think a challenge for the unconference is how to engage with people interested in education (which is a lot of people) and the people working in the sector. Again, I see a disconnect between the people charged with making educational policy and the people charged with implementing it. Having creative industries come in would for me be fascinating however there’s always that risk that this dilutes the purpose of the event.
Be the change you wish to see in your school
You might want to change your school or even New Zealand education as a whole. The easiest place to start is in your classroom. Perhaps I’m lucky that I teach at a school that encourages people to try new things. But at the same time it’s really easy to go back home and keep doing what you’ve always done especially when the inevitable obstacles come your way. You don’t have the facilities, cash, your leadership doesn’t get you. Obstacles aren’t there to keep you from doing something, they are there to show you how much you want something.
Lets get to it.
One of my co-workers last year remarked that the second year of teaching is so much easier than the first. Not only do you have a new workplace, but also learning the ins and outs of teaching without having a supervising teacher in the room. There’s nothing more isolating than those few weeks in your classroom when you suddenly realise it’s just you and your students.
This year I know where everything is, I’m back in the same classroom and half of the students in my class are joining me again for 2013. The goodie buckets and video went down well and I think I’ll keep those traditions in mind for next year with my students.
Random thoughts for the week.
Why do teachers not stay with classes for multiple years? Even for the ‘older’ kids consistency is a good thing. I feel that the class will be able to get down to learning a lot quicker as half the kids in the class know how things run and more importantly I know half the kids really well and they know me. Yes that means I can’t recycle resources from last year, but really should teachers be teaching the same thing year after year?
Why do teachers start each year with a huge batch of new students? The highlight of my week was watching my year 8s go off and teach the new students in the class how to comment on the blog. It’s a lot easier doing ICT related stuff when half the class know how to do things like sign into google accounts and comment on a blog vastly increasing the number of trouble shooters in the class.
Daily 5 rocks the house. Even on the first day of school my students were asking when we were going to restart the Daily 5. For me that makes this classroom management system a winner, the kids are asking about it.
The answer being soon.
Lets get to know each other better first…
This year I’ve resolved to share more of my practice online. I’m not sure how interesting it will be once the term really begins, but for now this school year is new and sparkly. I have lots of energy and want to share (as opposed to last year which just seemed to pass in blur of haziness).
I teach a combined Year 7/8 class with my Year 8s remaining with me for two years. This has both its advantages and disadvantages. I already know half my kids and there was a culture established in the class. However for incoming Year 7s it must be tricky coming into a room where half the kids know each other and whats what. The video is an attempt to bridge the gap letting the Year 7s know what they might expect from 2013 and giving the Year 8s a reminder of some of the crazy stuff we got up to last year.
I followed @kathryntrask example last year and used buckets as a place for students to store their gear in the absence of individual desks.
To get the kids a bit more psyched about the buckets, each bucket has some small gifts inside them:
An eraser, because all of us are going to start the year with a clean slate. A blue piece of card for the students to make a postcard to mail home in a few weeks with their goals for the year. A yellow piece of paper to name their bucket (I’ll laminate those). There’s also a pencil to represent that we are each scholars and piece of vietnamese candy to signify our school theme for the first of the half of the year, globalisation. Finally there’s a lollypop which has extra special significance.
Late last year I stumbled onto this awesome TED Talk by a guy called Drew Dudley, who argued that true leadership was in the little every day things that we do to make each others lives better which he called lollypop moments. Now my Year 8s have already seen the talk but something really resonated with me about this idea and I’m going to use this idea as something to build on in the next few weeks as I build up my class’s culture.
New Year, New furniture.
One of the big things to happen in my class is that we have new furniture. My class really was in need of some new furniture as the top was coming off one of the old tables, and some of them had bits falling off them.
Now the classroom has wave tables that can be easily reconfigured, a low level table, plus stools, the hokki stools (wobbly stools) thanks to my awesome principal.
To top things off my last year’s tutor teacher left my students her old couch which I know is something the kids will love.
On one hand it’s awesome having new desks and chairs but on the other, I was has having trouble working out how this furniture would fit around the room. Yes a few tables got moved next door as the kids in my class will often work on the ground and too much furniture tends to stop this from happening.
You might notice that a lot of my desks and tables are pushed against walls rather than in the middle of the class. Again this is deliberate, to improve the flow of the class. Having lots of furniture tends to impede movement both of kids and furniture as it become a big deal to push a table out if there are three in the way.
I also don’t have enough chairs and table for every child to sit down at once. Again, this is deliberate. By not having enough kids need to learn how to share. It also means that students who want to work on the couch or the sofa can do this.
There’s also beanbag and plenty of cushions (which my students often plonk on top of). I’ve line up furniture against the board to take the focus away from the front of the classroom. I haven’t quite managed Stephen Heppell’s rule of three points of interest (not to mention there are not three teachers in the class, but nevertheless there should be multiple points of interest for people to see if they happen to wander into the classroom.
You might have noticed that I don’t have much on the walls. This is deliberate. I know a lot of teachers like to have bright borders and pretty fonts and yes it is nice to have an aesthetically pleasing classroom. However I’m of the belief that the walls should be places for learning and if you are going to put up things, then it needs to have a purpose other than looking pretty. Over the coming weeks I’m sure that there will be questions and problem posing plastered all over the walls. I also know the kids will start putting up artwork that makes the standard, in fact maintaining our walls with colour and interest will I’m sure be part of my class’s morning chore.
At the moment I’m not entirely happy with my set up. It feels a lot more like a classroom at the moment rather than the library vibe I had previously. Nevertheless, there’s a good chance things will change a lot in the coming weeks and months. And truth be told, I really miss our igloo.
This year promises to be an exciting one. I hope to document it a lot better than I did my first.
Tomorrow my learners arrive and instead of freaking out like I did every term last year, I feel oddly calm.
The days are starting to get shorter and stationary is starting to be bought which depending on your point of view is either the end of the holidays or the start of a new school year.
I’m going to go for a glass is half full interpretation and say it’s the start of 2013.
My holidays have been both equally manic and magic with 11 cities/towns, 8 border crossings and 3 cooking classes as I’m meandered around South East Asia in the space of five weeks. In my enthusiasm to dust off my passport, I left for the airport barely 12 hours after I waved goodbye to my students and will arrive just in time for the International Conference on Thinking.
Although most of my time has been spent marvelling at ancient and modern buildings in between eating copious amounts of street food, I did spend a couple of days in International Schools seeing the amazing teaching and learning going on there.
I know what you are thinking.
It takes a special kind of nerd to set aside time on holiday to do classroom observations but my time was PD on steroids. I have come back brimming with ideas to implement in the classroom and a love affair with the Primary Years Programme. As I look about my ideas around barcamps, impact projects and even the Daily 5 I can see how the programme gives some conceptual grunt to my ideas about effective teaching and learning. I would write more but I fear that such one-way gushing would be a bore to read.
These visits simply wouldn’t have been possible without twitter. Through twitter I had already virtually visited classrooms and met teachers. However while online is good face to face is so much better. You get to hear the conversations, the sights and yes even the smells of the classrooms. Nevertheless it is ever so surreal actually being in a classroom that you’ve been watching over the internet or putting a face to an avatar.
In other news I was pleased and humbled to have made it into the Apple Distinguished Educator programme. The calibre of the candidates who both made it into the programme and those who missed out is truly awe-inspiring. Alongside a digital community to join, I also have four days of learning and networking in Bali just before Easter.
2013 is looking to be an exciting year…
When I first became a stepparent one of my friends remarked that once you become responsible for a child, the days are very long but the years are short.
I was reminded of that comment as I was grabbing my belongings in my empty classroom and realised that although there were some very long days, this year has been incredibly short.
If the first session of the first day was the longest hour of my life, the lead up to the final day of the school year just seemed to pass in a blur.
Like my many of my students I couldn’t wait for school holidays to start. I counted the weeks, marked off the days on my calendar, and went down my list of things to get finished in the final hours. But now that the end of the school year has gone I’m winging my way to
Bangkok Burma I feel sad that I didn’t take more time to be in the moment with my first group of students.
As we watched some of the crazy videos we made this year, I looked out and felt very fortunate to have taught such a great group of kids in my first class. We’ve had our shares of ups and downs, messy projects that never seemed to run to schedule and yes there have been times of frustration we’ve I’ve wondered if I am actually making a difference. Sometimes in those long days progress can be hard to measure. But as one year ends another is just on the horizon and I’ve learned that empty classrooms are bookends, it’s what you do in between that counts.
Over the last week or so I’ve been gathering together all the photos and videos that I had on my hard drive and was staggered at how much digital content the students have created over the year. So much I couldn’t fit it onto a single DVD.
Putting together the content for my students reminded me that despite my many meltdowns into misery, my class has had quite a year.
We produced two awesome assemblies, had some fun with the Daily 5 in literacy blocks, set up individual blogs, we’ve read two novels out loud, made a youtube submission to parliament, redesigned our learning space, built an igloo, went to camp, had a go at some real-world maths, completed an impact project and a bar camp.
On a professional level, I really enjoyed participating in the educamps, ignition2012 and making a contribution to Teachers Council Social media guidelines. I wish I had more time and blog and my attempts at getting an educamp in Wellington were a bit of a F.A.I.L.
Next year I’ve been asked to be a keynote speaker at SocCon on the work that the class did on the digital learning submission. If feels good to be giving something back to the education community that has supported me in the last few years.
Over the last year I’ve had labels like, techie, creative or innovative attached to my teaching and frankly I don’t get it. Nothing I’ve accomplished this year has been as the result of any inherent talent of my own. I’m forever pinching ideas off people and adapting them to suit my needs. If anything this year has taught me the importance of nurturing those connections.
My main problem is that I seem to have far too many ideas and far too little time to implement then. As a teacher I often feel like I am being pulled in two opposite directions. Between those messy and crazy projects and all the must dos that need to be checked off. While I appreciate the importance of those signposts sure schools must be more than factories that spit out kids with NCEA credits at the end of it.
Because when all is said and done the students aren’t going to remember my lesson on inferencing or using place value to multiply decimals but I’m pretty sure they’ll remember the igloo or the day they showed up to find that half the desks had been removed or the year that they caught the reading bug.
It has been a good year.
Hello my name is Stephanie and I’m an iphone addict.
I use my iphone in conferences, in meetings and *gasp* even in the classroom but I’m not using it to play angry birds.
Here’s 10 ways I use my iphone to make my teaching more effective:
1. Video – capturing learning as it happens
The main reason I got an iphone was for the video capabilities I’ll often walk around my classroom with my phone capturing student learning. Video can be used for students to check in on what they actually did versus what they really did. For instance, do students give each other time to talk or do they butt into conversations? I will frequently use interviews as an alternative for pencil and paper tests making assessment far less intrusive on the student. Moreover video is an effective way to put friends, family and sometimes even parliamentarians right into our classroom. Using an iphone means footage can be edited on the spot and then shared potentially with the whole world in a few minutes.
2. Posting pictures to the cloud
I’ve easily taken thousands of photos this year of my class. Some of them are the generic photos of kids at school events and on field trips but I also use the photo function as way to capture student learning and thinking. What makes the iphone awesome is that these photos can then be easily be shared even if I’m away on camp. I use flickr as my cloud storage of choice and will sometimes email stand-out pictures to students families.
3. Texting parents
You don’t need a fancy phone for sms and so this hardly seems worth mentioning. Nevertheless, I’ve found the best way to engage with my previously hard to reach parents, parents who don’t have email or might work odd hours, has been through text messaging. 160 characters keeps communication short and to the point. The asynchronous nature of text messaging also gives the parent time to think and then respond at a time that suits them.
4. Professional learning
I’ve got twitter, feedly, diggo, facebook, pinterest all on my phone. I often use my commute in the morning or my lunchtimes to scan my social network feeds for readings and ideas in the classroom. Professional learning for me isn’t a once a week meeting, it pretty much happens from the minute the alarm goes off on my phone.
5. Timers and reminders
The phone has a handy stopwatch and timer available. I’ve used my phone to time students speeches and also a countdown for tidying things up at the end of the day.If you are a bit like me and are so engrossed in teaching that you forget that your student needs to go over to the teacher aide room or need a prompt to photocopy something for class when you arrive at school, the iphone will send you reminder at a certain time or place.
Although I much prefer paperbooks to the electronic version. If I’m desperate for a book and New Zealand shops don’t stock it I’ll make a quick trip to Amazon and hey presto the book was there on my phone. Granted it’s a bit tough on the eyes and I wouldn’t recommend reading the entire of Moby Dick on your phone, but if a student is borrowing my ipad and I want to read a passage from a book, the iphone is great second option.
You are watching a news story with a reading group about kid’s school lunches. One of the students pipes up,” hey why don’t we see what things are like in our class?” The student takes photos of a quick survey, which is then posted to your blog and then let the journalist know via your class twitter account all from your iphone. No more mucking around waiting for the computer to load and finding the right cords for the camera, the sharing is seamless and the ability of my classroom to connect with the outside word is so much simpler.
8. Anecdotal note taker
If you are conferencing with a student or group of students, instead of writing down the conversation or taking a bulky laptop, you can use your phone to quickly record that conversation. I use Evernote which is an easy way to sort each child into folders and the app also has a nifty audio feature. When I’m talking about a child’s reading progress with another teacher, that teacher can hear the child read. The notes I make on Evernote are easily accessible from any device I’ve got the programme installed.
9. What the heck is that?
When I was out on duty when a group of kids spotted a rather interesting looking spider. I had no idea what the said spider was so I whipped out my phone a quick google confirmed the species of the spider and that it wasn’t dangerous to even if poisonous spiders aren’t exactly a huge problem in New Zealand. Point is we can access the information right then and there
10. Augmented reality
One of the most awesome features of the phone is augmented reality. Apps like wikitude, skyview etc. give kids a heads up display of what they are seeing in front of them. If you are on field trip you can learn point your phone in front of a building or a landmark and get a detailed history from wikipedia. Better yet, get the kids to start entering details for their area or make artwork come alive with aursama.
In reality there are hundreds of ways to use your iphone in teaching. What I love about my phone is that I mostly use it for a specific job and then *gasp* put it down again. It is the quick functionality of the phone, the unobtrusive nature of recording, the seamless sharing between channels and the fact it is small enough that I can put it back in my pocket when I am done which makes the iphone an indispensable teaching tool.
Moreover the ipod touch is the most common device students in my class own. Through using my phone, I better know how to help my kids learn effectively with the technology that in too many classrooms is at best sitting in a student’s pocket at worst outright banned from school.
So the next time you see a teacher hunched over their iphone in the staffroom, ask them how they are using it in their teaching and learning.
Whoops I better go, my phone is ringing.
How do you use your mobile device as a teaching tool?
Over the course of this term my students have been working on an impact project on the topic of sustainability. I must admit that I stole the basic idea from ASHS. I love the idea that even at this young age, students should be thinking about how they can use their own talents to help make the world a better place. However due to time and the need to cover the school’s theme, the students were specifically looking at society’s use of natural resources and then taking what they learned and using to make an impact on the community in some way.
Alongside our igloo making, I planned a provocation to get the kids thinking. I found a fascinating TED talk on Fair trade cellphones. A lot of the students struggled with some of the concepts in the talk , however sustainability minute I mentioned Avatar the penny dropped. There was a mineral that was being harvested by humans at great cost to both a society and an ecology. We then, went through and looked at the different ways we could build knowledge about the resource being used such as wikipedia, contacting the person who gave the talk and or companies that manufacture mobile phones to see if they knew where the raw materials from the cellphone come from.
Finally we looked at ways that could use our new-found knowledge to do something about this whether it be through consumer choices (such as only buying from companies that produce ethically produced phones), political power (such as writing letters or our representatives) or art like for example as igloo making or movies. In short I provided a model for the students to follow in their own inquiries.
And then I sent the students off on a similar journey. The students chose their own natural resource and then went about the process of building knowledge about how humans are using the resource. One of the requirements of this phase of the project was that the students needed to engage with an outside expert.
It was amazing how many of my students were apprehensive about this task. While much of the focus of digital learning has been on students being able to access information. As my students found out being passive consumers was one thing, actually contacting people out in the ‘real world,’ that was tough. Even finding the right people and organisations to contact took a while for my students to get their heads around.
However the pay off was that through contacting experts, students inquiries started taking off in different directions. One group was resourcing a precious metal, Through contacting a jewellery company in the United States that specializes in using recycled materials for their products they found out that there the resource wasn’t being recycled even though the production caused significant environmental damage.
If contacting the outside world was fearsome, using their new-found knowledge to make an impact was even harder. Most of my students decided to play it safe by defining their community as something around the school however one brave group decided to write a protest letter to a foreign government. Sure it might not change the world over night, but the point was that the kids were using their education to make an impact.
As a teacher I found this project incredibly challenging. There’s a fine line to be walked between authentic student inquiry and also trying to get the kids moving to where they needed to go. I frequently found myself asking ‘Why are you contacting this organisation?’ ‘How will your artwork/presentation make an impact?” “Are you sure that this message is going to the right people?”
Impact projects required a lot more deep thinking by the students. The purpose of the project to get kids thinking about what resources are used to produce the everyday items and more importantly what they as citizens can do to influence our use of resources was mostly accomplished. The process of creating these projects has made me realize that my students don’t really have a knowledge of how to learn something new and more importantly what do with this information.
Or perhaps they do. One of students remarked at the end of the week that they wanted to email an old teacher so that the students could see this student’s advice to the new year 7s. Building content, collaboration and connection hmm perhaps there’s a model in there for learning.
Over the last two two terms my class has been building a milk bottle igloo. I’d like to say I had some sort of concept-based outcome when I decided to take on this project.
But alas no.
I saw the idea on twitter via @annekenn, a couple of classes decided to give it a go. The project broadly fitted with my school-wide topic of sustainability so I thought why not?
I showed the class the how to video at the start of the term to get them inspired but in reality I think the kids thought not for the first time this year that their teacher has a touch of the crazy.
Nevertheless the kids started bringing milk bottles in. At one stage I had over 150 milk bottles strung up around my classroom. But then I fell into a mild panic. What on earth were we going to build our structure on?
Was I going to have to abandon the project?
Weeks passed and the number of milk bottles being bought in started to drastically decrease. The construction work started on the school’s main building and I managed to salvage a piece of carpet from the demolition.
Once we had our base, building could finally commence.
Then about a third of the way through construction, we were facing a dangerous lack of milk bottles. We The kids were getting a bit sick of the project and I was again running out of steam. The end of the year was rapidly approaching and I didn’t want this project to fail.
I talked to my tutor teacher who came up with an idea to get the rest of the school involved, have a competition. Thus the great milk bottle competition began. Slowly but surely kids from different classes started bringing in milk bottles and the most amazing thing happened.
As the construction of our igloo progressed, the number of kids coming into the class with spare milk bottles started increasing. The kids in my class became a lot more excited about the project and we finally finished the project with a ribbon cutting ceremony that the students organized during their ‘morning stuff.‘
It was fantastic feeling seeing the kids finally finish the project and more importantly that the igloo is getting plenty of use from the kids. In fact the more I think about, the more I love that the class has created a cave space for the kids who crave less stimulation in the classroom.
But what has been really rewarding has been seeing kids list in their end of year reflection for their reports list building the igloo as a highlight of the year.
But what did all this igloo building teach my class.
First off building the igloo taught us that we can transform everyday objects into works of art or something functional with a bit of creativity.
Secondly, the igloo taught my students the value of team work. I showed two students the basics of construction and then they passed on the lessons to other people.
Thirdly, we all learned that hot glue leaves a nasty burn and the best thing to do is run cold water on it and wait for it to peel off.
But the biggest lesson I hope that my students took away with them is the importance of collaboration. There’s no way we would have finished the igloo if students and teachers from other classes hadn’t pitched in. Having others help gave both myself and my class the motivation to finish the project.
But project based learning doesn’t come without its pitfalls. There were a number of times throughout construction where I fell into one of those pits of despair we all fall into when something you’ve invested a lot of time in isn’t going well.
Project based learning is also incredibly messy. There was a stage where the classroom felt like it was swimming in milk bottles and the project certainly didn’t fit into a nice ordered unit of work. I couldn’t tell you at the start of the term when we were going to finish the igloo or even if we were going to finish constructing the thing at all.
Project based learning sometimes results in failure. Our igloo is slowly collapsing. One of my students has already identified that we didn’t have any scaffolding and more importantly we got a bit sloppy with construction in parts. Important engineering lessons for youngsters.
Project based learning sometimes hurts. Yes I burned myself multiple times. Yes my students burned themselves too.
But when they look down at that scar, they’ll be able to tell the story of the igloo made of milk bottles.
We hear a lot about 21st century learning in education.
About how computers are going to revolutionize and personalize teaching and learning. In fact there’s even been a government inquiry into digital learning yet the elephant in the room is assessment.
Last month North and South ran an article boldly stating that kids needed to take more control in the classroom from those pesky know it all teachers. The article argues that public school trained teachers are so wedded in the current system that they cannot or will not change their practice to meet the new century.
Yet I often wonder if the problem might not actually be with our teaching practices but with our assessment practices. The article noted that in the early in the 1990s, senior New Zealand pupils had more qualifications in the world. Post implementation of NCEA, New Zealand still has more external testing and qualifications than anywhere in the world.
Perhaps the problem isn’t that the current crop of teachers aren’t innovative, but it is our national obsession with measuring learning that is squeezing innovative teaching practices. Because simply put what gets measured gets done.
In an era where schools have their NCEA and National Standards results put up for scrutiny, I’m sure I’m not on teacher feeling the pressure between that amazing engaging curriculum and ensuring achievement gains as measured by standardized tests for students.
I’m not disputing the importance of qualifications, my own life has been enriched by gaining them. However if in the process of pushing as many students as possible to gain qualifications as possible we’ve turned vast numbers of kids off learning, something is wrong with our school system.
I sit here pondering this as I’m making my reading OTJ on one student. Last year the student didn’t read any books last year, this year the student has read over 30. We have conversations about what book the student is reading, what book the student wants to read next. The student knows exactly which type of books they like to read and will devour them in a few days. I’ve turned a non-reader into a reader yet I’ve spent hours ruminating about getting the OTJ right. The testing points to being just below standard and doubt sinks in. Instead of getting the student to read should I have spent more time on worksheets to get better results? Is that joy and love of reading going to be killed by being labelled below standard?
And that makes me wonder how ever can we have a student-centred personalized education system if we keep insisting on assessment system which is not. We test primarily through pencil and paper. We tell students to sit by themselves, we cut them off from information sources so we can check how much information has been retained and the ones who can retain it the best win.
It all seems so very 1900s in which we used education to sort out who got the manual jobs from those who would go off to run the empire.
So what does 21st century assessment look like?
Is it getting students to sit a multiple choice test on a computer. Surely that is no more an example of 21st century assessment than typing out a hand written essay on word?
Is it using an app to help them sit a pencil and paper exam? Why can’t the kids bring the phone with them? Or even better yet send off their best piece of work to the examiners?
Instead of teaching kids to meekly ask ‘is this good?’ we need to getting them to proclaim “this is my best!”
This year my maths programme has been rather mundane. I had delusions of promoting some sort of Daily 5 approach to maths but nothing really came of it. I was simply going through the motions teaching strategies but not really enjoying it. Maths was something I had to teach but the passion wasn’t there.
Last year I found a fascinating TED talk by Conrad Wolfram which argued that automation of maths could enable students to be able to develop a grasp of more complex mathematical problems at an earlier age.
I filed that thought away in my ‘nice idea’ file. Simply put I had no idea how to apply the principles of that talk to a classroom situation but I loved the essence of it, making maths real and relevant to the students.
A week ago while looking for an interesting hook into algebra, Matt posted about a programme happening over at Amesbury on what Wolfram argued was the corner stone of maths, posing the right questions.
One of Wolfram’s arguments is that schools spend far too much time on teaching kids computation at the expense of developing their skills to identify problems, come up with formula and then check it in the real world.
So I gave the problem-finding procedure that Matt was trying in my own class.
One of the keys to this programme is authentic contexts for learning. We had two problem-finding sessions over the week, the first was on buying new furniture for the school, the second on electoral maths.
Before the session I prepared a series of problems for the students..
Starting from easy problem, e.g how many tables does the school need to buy or if the polls close in Hawaii what time is it here in New Zealand through to more complex questions e.g which moving company should the school choose or did Nadar really influence the outcome of the 2000 election?
In order to be able to set up a maths formula, the students needed to ask me questions like for instance, what time do the polls close in Hawaii, through to which states did Nadar do well in?
The sessions were really corny. It may sound corny, but I was actually doing the maths. I was thinking about the principles I wanted to teach, where I might use it and ways I could apply what I was teaching to real-life contexts. Instead of setting texts I was engaging with the problems myself, thinking a lot more about exactly what it was the students needed to learn to solve the problems.
Over the course of the sessions I tried to video the students but there frequent interruptions from students trying to unlock more information to get to that next level. Yes the calculator function on their ipod touches came out. But they were also drawing recurring patterns, making guesses, exploring, using information they already knew to unlock part of the problem. It’s the most engaged I’ve seen my students in maths all year and were working finishing problems off at morning tea.
‘That was fun, can we do that again?’
A sure sign of a winning classroom activity.
Over the courses of the week I realized how these sort of sessions could be easily applied to questions around financial literacy.
How long does it take to repay your student loan?
Which kiwisaver provider or plan should choose?
Floating versus fixed rate mortgages?
The hidden costs of credit cards.
If I was going to make the programme a bit more upbeat I might give out QR codes instead of numbers and perhaps get the kids to answer via a google form. The students still have a bit of work to do around working with a team but it was interesting to see that the kids generally regarded as being ‘the best at maths’ by their peers aren’t necessarily the best problem finders.
For those who doubt the usefulness of real-world maths contexts, to student learning sure enough later in the week the question of what time it would be in Uruguay if it was 12 in Wellington came up. Why would my students be wanting to call Uruguay? Well that’s another post for another time.