Learning as I go: Experiences, reflections, lessons learned

Rachelle Dene Poth @rdene915 #FUTURE4EDU #QUOTES4EDU #THRIVEinEDU

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Guest Post by Sean Scanlon, @polonerd

Republished from his blog site, a great message about why we need to connect, and how to do so at conferences. 

 

On Tuesday night I returned from Summer Spark in Milwaukee. My head was still spinning and full from all of the great presentations and new ideas I heard, my heart was still racing from Joe Sanfelippo’s keynote, but most of all my heart was full from all of the love shared between friends at an Edtech conference.

This was the 4th year I’ve been to Spark (sorry to say I missed year 1) and every year my PLN grows but in different ways than just connecting with someone on Twitter or Facebook groups. At a mid-sized conference like Summer Spark you make awesome personal connections with people who have been in your PLN for months (maybe even years). You get to have dinner with people you haven’t seen in a year or more, or maybe people you’ve never even met before.

game night

It’s pretty clear when we go to dinner for game night on the first evening of the conference, and we turn 10 tables into one giant table so we can all sit together (until the table literally can’t grow anymore), this group is close and wants to learn more about what we’re doing in our classrooms, our schools, and even more about our future plans.

As far as game night goes, Jon Spike walks in with his bag of games, along with others who bring their favorite board games and let the fun begin. The fun and connections at this point are amazing and there are even some grudge matches from two years ago when it comes to CodeNames. Right Kristin?

Screen Shot 2019-06-20 at 11.27.05 AM

The conference is wonderful because Pam NosbuschChuck TaftMichael Matera, and so many others put their heart and soul into making it great. However, the true “Spark” we get in June is an uplifting of spirits and excitement from connecting with other inspiring educators, learning from them, and most importantly sharing with them what we do, what we want to do, and how they can help us get there.

All of this fun and all of these close relationships really go back to where it all started for many of us – Twitter. When we connect on Twitter, or any Social Media platform, we share what’s we’ve accomplished, we look to others for advice or ideas, and we ‘talk’ with each other about different topics in chats.

Who to Follow –When you find that first person you want to follow, click on their name and then click on where it says “Following”. Look at who those people follow because that is a choice they made to follow those people. You can glance at their profile and even see who those people follow – welcome to the most awesome rabbit hole.

Twitter Chats – If you haven’t done any Twitter chats, I’ve listed a few below but feel free to try ones that more closely tie into your content area or grade level. The chats are usually 30 or 60 minutes long and you’ll be connecting with educators from all over the country and possibly people from other parts of the world. Make sure you don’t pull a @GameBoyDrew and forget the #. If you don’t use the #, nobody else in the chat will know you’re saying anything.

122edchatgroup

Use Tweetdeck – Tweetdeck allows you to created columns based on a # or a particular user – plus other choices.  This makes it easier to track what people are talking about in that chat. You also have a notifications column so it makes it easier to see who ‘liked’ your post, replied to your post, or even just mentions you in possibly a different chat.

Simply put, get on Twitter and follow other educators. It’s polite and good practice to follow the people who follow you; except for the bots and the inappropriate accounts – check who they are and what they’ve posted before you follow someone. Check your feed occasionally and search some hashtags (#) to see what people are talking about.

Most of all, have fun connecting with other educators and don’t forget to introduce yourself when you meet them in person at awesome conferences like Summer Spark @usmspark #usmspark

 

Sign up for  Summer Spark, happening in June 2020!

 

 

 

 

Have you heard about the Buncee Holiday Hugs? This is an absolutely amazing project that has taken place during the months of November and December. Through this project, students from around the world have created Buncees and shared their work on a Buncee Board for everyone to see. There are now 957 Buncees added to this Board!

So what are these Buncees being used for?

 

Buncee is partnering with children’s hospitals from around the world to share the Buncees that have been created for Holiday Hugs. These amazing Buncees will be shared with children who will be spending their time in the hospital during the holidays.

The Holiday Hugs project was started by Amy Storer with inspiration from Michael Drezek. The idea evolved from Amy’s own experience as she was spending time with her mother in the hospital over the holidays. The idea for Buncee Holiday Hugs then came to life through the connections with Amy and Marie Arturi, Creator of Buncee. Holiday Hugs is another wonderful project that follows past projects such as the Buncee Buddies (a penpal project that connects students globally to collaborate on different themes) and Miles of Smiles with Michael Drezek.

To learn more, watch this interview with Amy Storer and Brian Romero Smith in which they discuss this amazing Holiday Hugs project and their hopes for it during this holiday season.

Here are a few of the wonderful messages shared with the children. What I love the most is that the messages written on each of these Buncees can be enjoyed by everyone through the use of Immersive Reader. A fifth grade class created this Buncee story for their Holiday Hug and with Immersive Reader, not only can the language be translated, but the story can then be read to the children as well. Beyond simply sharing a wish for the holidays, students can tell stories, send messages, tell jokes, express themselves and it is accessible and can be enjoyed by everyone.

Each Buncee is uniquely different, adding in winter themes, specific holiday traditions and celebrations, animations and even video messages for the children.

Seeing each student share a story, a joke, offer encouragement, record videos, or share their picture to lift others up, truly is inspiring.

Each Holiday Hug is heartfelt from student to student.

With Buncee’s integration with Immersive Reader, students can write a message and share it with any child around the world for them to enjoy. The use of Immersive Reader in Buncee enables students to create multimedia content, improve language skills and build global awareness in authentic and meaningful ways.

Please take time to explore the Buncee Holiday Hugs and read more about this project and its incredible impact on the lives of so many children and on everyone who has participated.

Look at the different creations! I hope you will take some time to explore the Buncee Holiday Hugs and read more about this wonderful project and its incredible impact on the lives of so many children and on everyone who has participated.

 

Recently I had a colleague ask me for some ideas for dealing with challenges when it comes to classroom management, student behaviors and just keeping up with the responsibilities of teaching in general. I’m always happy to have time to talk with other educators, there is so much to learn by connecting. I think sometimes there is an assumption that because someone may have been teaching for 10 or more years, or worked in the same school district for a long period of time, that’s there is a higher level of knowledge and skill held by a teacher that fits into this description. While of course the more that you teach, it might seem like you would have a lot of ideas and answers to share with younger or new to the school teachers, but the longer you have taught also means, I think, that you have that much more to learn.

Having taught for about the last 25 years, I’ve had a lot of different experiences, some good, some bad, some in-between and some just absolutely fantastic. I have been in the position where I needed to improve, and felt like no matter what I tried to do or could try to do, that I just would not succeed. That I would lose my job. I’ve also been at the opposite end where I felt like things were going well, I could feel more success and a change in how I had been teaching in the classroom and in my connections and relationships that I had built with the students and colleagues.

 

I think if you ask any educator, most can probably identify the best year they’ve had, and if they can’t, they just can’t yet. We always have room to grow and things take time. How do educators decide what makes it the best year? For some, is it a year without many challenges, the students are well-behaved, homework is complete, other clerical tasks and responsibilities held by the teacher are finished, observations went very well and teacher ratings are satisfactory or proficient or whatever the ranking may be? Maybe. But how do we truly define what would be the best year ever?

It takes time to build

I am fairly certain that last year was the best year I’ve had yet. I think because I changed a lot of things in my classroom, I stopped worrying so much about having every minute of every class accounted for and instead gave the students more possibilities to lead in the classroom and for me to have more opportunities to interact with them. Now it did not come without its challenges, some student behaviors that in some cases pushed me so far beyond frustration that I thought I reached my breaking point. I reacted in ways that I was not proud of, but I let the frustration get the best of me. I stopped seeing the student and only saw the behaviors. My “lens” had become clouded and it took some reflection and just not feeling very good about it for me to realize that I had to do something different.

 

The common feeling or response is when you feel like there is a lot to handle or come up with a plan for, can feel so isolating. you might feel lost or like others are judging you based on what you perceive to be your weak areas when it comes to instruction. And I’ve had a few people confide in me that they feel like they’re too different or too weird or they’re not normal enough to be teachers. Hearing those kinds of things breaks my heart because I don’t want to see teachers become disengaged or to lose their passion for doing the work that teachers do because of worrying about how others may or may not perceive them.

My response is always it’s good to be different, what does normal look like anyway? Does normal mean everybody gets and does the same thing? Does being normal mean you fit into some kind of mold, one that may or may not be who you truly are? I think the best that we can do for our students is to show them who we are because we want to know who they are.

We can’t hide behind some perceived idea or model of what a teacher should or should not look like. Nor should we compare ourselves to our colleagues or other teachers that we may have had in our own experience. When we do this we lose sight of something and I think it’s important for us to demonstrate and model for students. We need to worry about ourselves first and only compete with who we are today by judging it based on who we become tomorrow. Everyone has weaknesses, everybody struggles, everybody feels like they don’t belong at times, a friend once wrote about being in the land of misfits, I’m totally fine with that.

 

What can we do, regardless of what year we are in during our careers? New teachers have a lot to offer us veteran teachers, there are better pre-service teacher programs and more information available to current students that are seeking to get into the profession, than what is available to us veteran teachers, who may not have access to or may not even know they exist. And for the new teachers, when you are assigned to have a mentor in your school, I really don’t think you should consider it to be that you are the learner and that you must follow and adhere to all of the advice of your mentor. You have to decide who you want to be, what is your purpose, your why, your spark, your passion for doing what you’re doing?

It starts with us and it always starts with us to take that first step. We have to be okay with who we are and commit to doing whatever is best for our own personal and professional growth but being mindful of what that means and how it will impact those we lead and learn with.

So if at any time you feel down or lost or frustrated or like you’re becoming disengaged or that you don’t fit in, please send me a message. I’d love to talk to you and share some of my own experiences on my 25-year learning journey.

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

Book4.png

Guest  Post by Kim Murphree, Educational Technology Trainer, Mansfield, Texas @murphree_kim

With the increase in accessible, affordable and abundant Augmented and Virtual Reality apps and programs, education can now provide these types of learning experiences for students. We see it with the popularity of the Merge Cube and Merge Goggles, and with free programs like Google Expeditions and Tour Creator. Teachers, and more importantly their students, have the opportunity to participate in these types of learning experiences with little monetary investment and not a super high level of technical knowledge.

And that’s what augmented and virtual reality provides in education- an experience. Learning through AR/VR raises a learning activity from a passive task to an immersive experience- connecting the user to the content in a way that has not been reasonably possible in the classroom before. Implementing Augmented or Virtual Reality raises your level of engagement through a multi-sensory experience. The experience itself is as close as you can get to having “special effects” in the classroom- and here is where teachers can take advantage of this magic. Teachers don’t have to work quite so hard for the “wow”. Countless PD sessions and books expound on how to “hook” students in or ways to increase engagement with the content- with AR/VR the cool is already there. Kids are already hooked and engaged. This leaves the content connection. Teachers can now concentrate on what they are the experts in- the content. However, It is important to connect the cool with the content in order to ensure that integrating AR/VR is meaningful and purposeful.

Below are some tips for “connecting the cool”:

  • Extend and Enhance your Curriculum– make sure your AR/VR integration doesn’t turn into a “movie day” situation. It should not be used as a filler but as a value-added addition.
  • Ensure Active Learning– Augmented and Virtual reality in the classroom has an inherent physicality to it, make sure you adapt your room and lesson to guarantee student interaction with the materials and with each other
  • Significance– As the content area expert, and with the built-in wow factor, use your lesson planning time to bring the content purpose to the forefront. The AR/VR experience should solidify the significance of the content you are covering.
  • Reflective Summary– AR/VR activities, while special, still require follow-up and feedback. Build opportunities for reflection in your lesson, just like you would for any good learning activity.

Augmented and Virtual Reality bring learning to a personal level and engages learning styles and modalities in such an easy way. This type of technology has far-reaching and limitless potential for use and has come so far that students and teachers are now able to move from simply being consumers of this type of technology to the creators. There are so many applications and programs that can bring your content to life- engagement and interaction are built into these applications. Students who are using a Merge Cube to look at the Solar System can immediately see its “cool”, therefore teachers can concentrate on the content and curriculum connection. Immersive technologies create genuine and unique learning opportunities that meet the needs of diverse learners of today.

 

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

Books available

Guest post by Jason Clark, Innovation Specialist, Eagle Point School District 9, Eagle Point, Oregon     Twitter: @jpclark03    #Go3agles #epsd9 

 

Throughout my career as an educator and edtech enthusiast, one of my passions has been to use video to tell a story, or to deliver news. At every school that I have been at along my journey (elementary school), I have created a student news program. This started way back before digital video and personal devices, and that makes me feel like a fossil. I have created news programs that aired live through closed circuit cable every single day, and news programs that were pre-recorded and posted to our school webpage via youtube every day. It was always a huge hit with students and we found that it was a great way to reach our parents and community as well, once our shows were shared on youtube. That’s that magic of it, students reaching an audience to deliver a message in a fun creative way.

In my new role as an Innovation Specialist for my district, one of my goals is to begin student news programs in each school. Our district is a 1:1 iPad district which puts us in a very unique situation. Every single student from K-12 has a working studio in their hands, with the ability to reach a broad audience. That is powerful. Our high school just started a video production class this year and we’ve built a working studio that is based and focused on the iPad. We use Padcaster Studios along with our ipads to create two video news episodes a week that go out to students and the community. The episodes are fun and creative. However, it is very difficult for teachers to take time out of the day to watch the news with students. Time is always an issue.

One trend that I’ve noticed is that we aren’t generating the views that we had hoped to get.

How can we reach our high school students in a different way? The news and announcements are filled with important information that they need to know, but many are missing them because the don’t listen to the intercom announcements (I’m guilty as well) or get a chance, or the time to view our student video news (Eagle News) on youtube. Then it hit me.

There is a way to hit just about every student in our high school with the important news and information that they need to know. We are now taking a risk that many schools are not willing to take. We are using the platforms that the majority of high school aged students use regularly. We are pushing out our video news and announcements through Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter. Our students are consumers of a constant bombardment of information, so watching a 3-4 minute news episode is unlikely to happen throughout their day. However, they check their Snap, Insta, and Twitter accounts between classes (never during class) and when they are away from school. We are meeting them where they are at. Our video students and leadership students are changing the way school news and announcements are sent and received. They are content creators of short bite-sized nuggets of news that will reach their peers and the community in multiple ways. We are evolving what school news can look like, and it’s exciting to see where it goes.

One thing to consider is building trust with students and the use of social media. They don’t necessarily want teachers to see what they are doing and posting on their social media accounts. The way that we build trust with our students is that our Eagle News accounts don’t follow anyone back. We are purely using the platforms to push out our content. All things said and done, our social media news does not replace our studio news. We still create our studio news episodes because even if we don’t have many viewers yet, the experience in a studio is vital to video production. What we have done is to mesh our created content together in multiple platforms to reach a greater audience.

Ask yourself this question: How do you get most of your news? Do you sit on your couch to watch the 6:00 pm news? Or do you get live updates from your local news station on Twitter or Facebook? As our world changes and technology changes, as educators, we need to pay careful attention to how our students view news so that we can adapt to meet them where they are. That place is usually one with a device close by.

 

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

Books available

Opinions Expressed are those of the Author

Guest Post By: Gerald G. Huesken Jr, Social Studies Teacher – Elizabethtown Area High School, Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania

@MrHuesken

As someone who has been teaching high school social studies, particularly government and economics, for the better part of the last decade, a study from the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania was quick to catch my eye. In this study, researchers found that American’s basic civic knowledge, as well as their basic understanding of current events around the world was startlingly lacking – only 26% of respondents could name all three branches of government compared to 37% of respondents naming a freedom protected by the First Amendment. Furthermore, researchers found that with this lacking basis of knowledge, respondents were even less likely to look at, consume, or engage in discussions about national or world events or understand their key significance. Quite shocking, to say the least.

While some of my colleagues would be quick to point out fundamental flaws in how we as teachers engage our students in basic civic education, we as educators do an equally flawed job of encouraging our students to read about and discuss current events and relate it to the broader issues of the day. Long seen as a “filler” in social studies classes, current events, in my opinion, serve a valuable purpose in relating course content to the real world for our students. Finding engaging and unique ways to get students making such connections and engaging with news media of all kinds is the real challenge. That is why I have become a believer in FANSchool.org.

Popularly referred to as “fantasy football for social studies and literacy standards,” FANSchool.org is an easy-to-use new learning site that attempts to “game-ify” current events consumption for students. Developed by Minnesota-based social studies teacher and FANSchool.org co-founder Eric Nelson, who was looking for a new way to engage his students in current events and the study of cultures around the globe.FANSchool.org (and its flagship games of Fantasy Politics & Fantasy Geopolitics) engages students in the study of current events in a new and different way, by turning it into a fantasy football-style experience. Students draft teams of countries or US states, follow those countries or states in the news, and get points for every time their countries or states are mentioned in assigned media outlines like The New York Times. The points are then tableted and posted on the FANSchool.org site. Using this game friendly system, teachers then have the flexibility (along with the network support of other educators using the FANSchool.org platform) to develop engaging activities, challenges, awards, and programs to engage their students more fully in the current events experience. The site also runs “March Madness-style” competitions for Presidential elections and the Olympic Games, pitting students from across the nation and the world in a knock-down current affairs slugfest for bragging rights and prizes.

In my classroom, I have used the Fantasy Geopolitics game as a way to further engage my Honors and on-level students in engaging with world events and international media, while promoting friendly academic competition. This November, FANSchool.org will roll out a new feature of their Fantasy Geopolitics game that includes the “drafting” of members of Congress along with US states, providing a new dimension of engagement for my Honors and on-level Government and Economics classes. Their Election Challenge game (provided every four years with the coming of a new Presidential election) also creates discussions of how the Electoral College will unfold and how Americans will vote for their next President, stimulating questions, discussion, and discovery of America’s political system. FANSchool.org’s devoted network of “Teacher-Commissioners” also provides a great opportunity for networking as well as a shared repository of activities, classroom ideas, and engaging projects. Have students write “Presidential briefs” of hot-current event topics to engage in civic or international action, or have them develop a podcast that discusses how the events of their game relates to the real world (like my students did with the Fantasy Geopolitics Podcast…)

With competition comes the quest for knowledge, and with knowledge comes true competency. That is the goal of FANSchool.org and this is why I would highly recommend fellow social studies educators check out this engaging and fun-filled current events tool for their social studies classroom.

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

Books available

The Impact
Guest Post by Megan Reinke, Student at Iowa State University, @MissMeganR

Last spring I took CI 245. It’s a class focusing on classroom management and lesson plans. That isn’t why I loved it though.

 I loved it because my teacher was one of the most supportive, knowledgeable, caring, fun teachers. People say, “You don’t get that in teachers at big universities,” but oh no, I definitely did. She is such a role model to me as I continue into the field of education. She didn’t just share her successes and high points of teaching, but she also shared her lowest points and failures. I loved this about her because it taught me that it is okay to mess up. Teaching and life is hard. We are all going to make mistakes.

 In her final thoughts on the last day, she had our class calculate the number of students we would touch the lives of throughout our teaching careers.

 There were 24 students in our class, and if we each thought for roughly 42 years, and had 20 students in our class then…

 (24 times 42 times 20)

 20,160.

 20,160 students. Wow.

 She started crying. I started crying. My class started crying. She went on to express how much she loved us, is proud of us, is excited for us, and going to miss this class.

 Point is, we all get the chance to make a big impact. HUGE in fact. I don’t mean this in regarding to the size of group or number of lives we get to impact. That number could have came out to be way smaller and it still would give me a reason to be purposeful in the ways I am impacting lives. Whether you get the chance to impact 20,000 lives or 2 lives, you get the opportunity to leave a HUGE impact on someone in this world. GET EXCITED FOR THIS! What are you doing now to prepare for this? How are you treating people everyday?

 Be that positive light, that positive influence, that supportive role model. Just how my teacher did to me.

 

Guest Post by, Jeffrey Patrick, M.Ed, Computer Science Integration Teacher, Propel Homestead  @jeffreypatrick_

The worst thing happened. My MacBook Pro fell. It slipped right off of my lap. The black screen of death has arrived. I got this MacBook Pro to get me through graduate school. It did its job, and I taught with it everyday for over 5 years. Since switching to Mac in 2004, it was my second in over a decade. The Apple tax hits you hard at first, but honestly these devices seem to last way longer than PCs that I’ve owned. I realize that there are alternatives, but I’m in the Apple ecosystem, and for me it’s a good place to be. None of that mattered now, I needed a new device, and I went on the internet to research. There it was, the iPad Pro.

The new iPad Pro (2018) has been my daily driver for about 6 months. I’m not yet running iPad OS, but its “MacBook” features are promising. More on that a little later. The main eye catching specification on the new iPad Pro is the A12X bionic chip. Apple has been making huge strides with its SOC chips. The iPad Pro, the one I’m using, has a Geekbench score of 5000 and a multi core score of 18000. It’s fast. It’s really fast. My old 2012 MacBook Pro 15 inch with and I7 processor and 16GB of Ram maxes out at 13000. Yes, this iPad is faster than many entry level MacBooks and some of the pros, and all MacBook airs. In some situations, the 11 inch model can be had for bout 700.00 dollars. That’s easily 3 hundred cheaper than the cheapest air, and it’s more powerful.

This device does everything faster. Typing, with a Bluetooth keyboard, editing Doink videos with green screens, coding applications, social media, mirroring examples for students to Promethean boards, using external displays with usb-c, and taking great photos are a few of my favorites. I’ve even had a smoother experience using Apple Classroom when controlling student iPads. The blazing fast 120hz screen refresh rate makes for nearly zero latency for the Apple Pencil too.

This machine is almost the MacBook that I’ve forgot about. Here’s where the caveats come in. It is a mobile device. That means using mobile versions and apps for almost everything. I ran into several issues when editing google docs and sheets because of the mobile platform. This was exacerbated by the limited view of document settings and tool bar menus. I imagine that Google with eventually fix some of these issues, but I’m sure they are more concerned about developing for their own devices. There is also no SD card reader. I mainly use this to print from our classroom 3D printer, but it’s annoyingly very mobile when it comes to these little tasks. My MacBook Pro could handle these simple tasks without any issues at all. Oh, and no mouse. This is really frustrating when doing word processing or trying to select specific text. It’s more like a long press with a little menu that you get on iPhones. It’s not as fast as a mouse right click, and painfully awkward when editing and moving things around.

The future is bright with iPad OS though. iPad OS is set to be announced soon, and it is the first time that iPad will have its own version of Apple’s OS. Part of the main features are the ability to use external storage, like SD cards, and a native file management system. It will also feature a full version of Safari that will display and act the same as a browser on a full Mac OS platform. It also has a very color accurate display which Apple calls the Liquid Retina display. Text, videos, apps, and the camera look great. They look really good. I’m even typing on it right now. This is not going to replace desktop hardware, and it’s not meant to. However, as a busy teacher, I use the iPad Pro everyday to teach with. It’s a good choice if considering a new device or in the case you don’t want to pay Apple 600.00 dollars for a new display in an out of warranty 2012 MacBook Pro.

If you think this is a good transition for you or you already own and/or teach with iPads, I recommend becoming an Apple Teacher. I have earned all of their badges, and they do a great job at getting you oriented as an educator. In addition to this, Apple has started an Everyone can Create and an Everyone can Code program. You can download their free CS For all Scope and Sequence as well as easy to use lesson plans. Also visit their Apple Disguised Educator forum to get great ideas from teacher leaders from around the world.

So the MacBook isn’t entirely dead, and I like to tinker. I’ve decided to take the hinge off of my old MacBook, and its’ currently hooked up to my school Promethean board with a wireless keyboard and a mouse. When I have it at home, I use it in target display mode with an iMac. It still works really well as a desktop replacement. It’s also a great teaching tool when showing students different components of hardware.

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

Books available

 

Guest Post by Dan Haiem, @danclasscalcco1 

“But teacher, why do I need to learn this math stuff if I can just use my calculator app?”

Every teacher has heard this at some point. Most students have asked this at some point. Up until around 2007, teachers had a great answer that kinda-sorta worked, which went something like “You’re not going to always have a calculator everywhere you go, are you?”

The opposite of that, of course, became a reality when the iPhone became the most common tool found in any student’s pocket, and gave them access to powerful calculators like Desmos, Geogebra and our very own ClassCalc.

Here’s my opinion though – the old answer was never a good answer, and the ubiquity of iPhones has given us a golden opportunity to re-evaluate a very valid question. What’s the point of learning math if we have calculators that do math for us?

In the words of NYC’s (possibly) most high-energy math teacher, José Vilson, “Math shouldn’t be limited to a disconnected set of rules and jargon that doesn’t seem to mean much of anything.” If math really was about the rules and jargon, then a calculator could truly replace the need for learning it. Fortunately (for humans), it’s not.

For the sake of simplicity, and because this is my first blog post ever, here’s a short roadmap of this post’s approach to this topic:

  1. First, we’ll discuss how math helps students build tools and skills, and define the difference between the two:
    1. Tools: Spreadsheets, running an analysis, doing taxes.
    2. Skills: Good communication, emotional intelligence, problem-solving.
  2. Next, we’ll discuss how math has shifted from serving us as a tool, to helping us sharpen our skills – most important of which is problem-solving.
  3. Finally, we’ll take a look at an example of how a specific math problem helps us build a specific problem-solving skill called mental-triage, and how we might help students make that connection as well.

Onwards.

Math serves two primary purposes in education: it gives students the tools to play with numbers, and it serves as practice to sharpen certain mental skills that are important in life. To define the two:

  • Tools: Concrete things a person “knows.” Examples include: spreadsheets, coding, writing blog posts (a tool I clearly lack), social media advertisements, taxes, etc.

  • Skills: More abstract, broad abilities that are not particularly associated with executing a specific task – the kinds you always see in leadership charts. Examples include: Hard working, communicative, optimistic, honesty with self, problem-solving, etc.

*Credits to Business Simulations

In this sense, math falls into an interesting crossroads as both 1) part of the abstract skillset a person has, (ie: “problem-solving”) and 2) a tool that can be put to work (ie: part of your “toolkit” – like running a statistical analysis on two data sets).

It’s important to keep in mind though that:

Math will play a fundamentally different role for different students, and we need to bring that understanding into the classroom.

An engineer will likely benefit from math as both 1) an exercise in problem-solving (skill) and 2) a tool to accomplish certain tasks.

An artist might use the abstract side of problem-solving (skill) but – and this is especially applicable today, with all the calculators in our pockets – they probably will not have much use for math as a tool

Here’s a screenshot I grabbed off the might internet that summarizes the point (albeit, aggressively):

*drops mic*

I believe it’s important and ok to tell our students that not all of them will be using math as a tool. At this point, most people don’t need math to do taxes (here’s a calculator for that), split a tab (here’s a calculator for that) or accomplish any of the other tasks that might have required math as a “tool” before calculators were built.

To recap:

  • Math confers two types of skills: Abstract problem solving (skill) and an actual tool in your toolkit (tool)
  • Everyone can (probably) benefit from the problem-solving (skill) aspect. While some people (engineers, some scientists) benefit from having math in their toolkit (tool), most can get by with their super powerful pocket calculator.
  • So, for students not interested in pursuing a career that would require a math toolkit, we must focus on the abstract problem-solving (skill) aspect of math.

As brilliantly stated by Baltimore Ravens lineman and MIT mathematician John Urschel, we need “students to see that math extends far past the confines of the classroom and into everyday life.” What’s more “everyday life” in the 21st century than problem-solving?

Now the questions shifts to: How do we show students the relationship between learning math and developing this abstract ability to “problem-solve”?

I have two thoughts on this:

  1. One thing to consider is that skills and tools are actually mutually conducive. Google is a tool you learn to use. Being able to learn stuff on your own is a very important skill in today’s workforce. Knowing how to use the Google tool will help you build the learn-stuff-on-you-own skill. I think the same applies to math.

Although students may never use calculus directly, the mental exercises they go through in solving calculus problems might help improve the mental muscles required for peripherally related skills.

  1. We need to find good examples to demonstrate the above. I mean good examples. Not the “Well, don’t you want to know how to do this without your calculator?” type of answer and not the “Being able to do your taxes is very important” type of answer and not the “here’s an example of Timmy calculating the volume of the Earth by standing on a ladder and looking at the horizon (although that’s super cool)” type of example. These examples all focus on the tool aspect of math, which we know won’t be as relevant to all students. We need to focus on the skill aspect of mathematics.

So now the challenge becomes being able to demonstrate to students a link between learning math and learning how to problem-solve. A good approach might be to 1) Have your students break down what sub-skills are required to succeed in math 2) Have your students break down what sub-skills are required to problem-solve 3) Discuss the cross-overs.

One of my favorite examples is mental triage: the abstract skill of quickly finding the most efficient path through a challenge given a limited toolkit.

Here’s an example of a math problem that helps sharpen the sub-skill of mental triage:

  1. Math itself is a limited toolkit. You learn how to move numbers around. How to draw graphs etc. Each time you learn one of these new tools, you’re essentially learning a new way to play with numbers. When we approach a math problem, we subconsciously run an analysis that goes something like this: What do I want to make these numbers do? What tools do I have to move these numbers around? What tools am I not allowed to use? What is the most efficient tool path to an answer?
  2. As an example, let’s take the following problem, a favorite of the SAT:

  1. Here’s how my brain runs through my math toolkit.
    1. I gotta solve for x.
    2. Problem: x is in the exponent.
    3. Do I have any tools to get rid of an exponent?
    4. I can raise both sides to ^(1/4x) which would lead to:
      1. No good. Back to step c.
    5. How else can I get rid of the exponent? Logarithms, let’s try that:
      1. which simplifies to:
    6. Great, we got rid of x in the exponent. Onwards! Divide both sides by 4log(2):
    7. Plug into by handy dandy ClassCalc Calculator to get:
      1. x=1

There we have it: mental triage in math.

Finally, we’ll bring it full circle with a real-world example of mental-triage as a sub-skill of problem solving.

Teaching my high school students how to pick a college

It was the last day of my physics class last year, and my students were just about done with school. They had already taken the AP test and were ready for summer. Instead of squeezing in another physics lesson, I decided to tackle a more pressing concern of theirs – choosing a university.

In retrospect, my method for picking a university was suboptimal – I just asked my good friends where they were going and what they thought a good college was, and ended up at UCLA. Lucky for me, I met good people there and had an awesome experience, but many others who take the same approach are not. I wanted to teach my students how to be proactive and problem-solving-oriented in making life choices.

Rather than start with “I want to go to college” I wanted to help each one of them hear their inner voice, and begin a dialogue with it. Start for the bottom. Here was my approach:

Student: *Says something*

Me:

And this is what the conversation ended up sounding like:

  • Student: What college should I go to?
  • Me: Why do you want to go to college?
  • Student: I need to get an edu-
  • Me: Yes, but why do you need an education? What’s your goal?
  • Student: I want to make money. Goal number 1: Make money!
  • Me: Honest, but fair. What else? A lot of jobs will make you money.
  • Student: I want to become a doctor.
  • Me: Do you for sure 100% want to become a doctor? Have you had real exposure to medicine? Or is it alluring to you for other reasons?
  • Student: I’m not sure. I want to figure out what I want to become. Goal number 2: Explore career options!
  • Me: Ok, what else?
  • Student: I want to make good friends and party. Goal number 3: Have fun
  • And so on..

By the end, we put together a list of priorities for each student. I could see their perspective change drastically. Rather than listen to a parent’s friend’s suggestion, they were determined to go online and research.

Now, I am not necessarily saying that a better mathematician is going to be better at selecting a college, but certainly, the tools we learn in math can inform our decision-making process for the important choices we must all make in life, especially if we are aware that there is a problem-solving oriented approach to making these decisions. Our jobs, as teachers, is to help students form that awareness.

A good method for cultivating that awareness is with Miyagi Moment every so often. What’s a Miyagi Moment moment, you ask?

It’s a metaphor for when a teacher (or sensei) helps a student develop a crucial skill by practicing adjacently related skills that at first do not seem connected.

In the first gif below, we see the legendary Mr. Miyagi teaching Daniel San how to…wax a car. Not really relevant to fighting karate.

In a later scene, Daniel san gets angry, accusing Mr. Miyagi of wasting his time with chores, when he should be learning super cool action moves to take down the big bully Johnny. Right then and there, Mr. Miyagi throws a couple of HYAH punches and BAM. Daniel san blocks them – all the while shocked in disbelief that he had developed the skills to do so. That moment of disbelief in the newly developed skill is the Miyagi Moment!

In math, students will often be practicing skills that seem almost irrelevant to them in life. It is up to us teachers to remind our students every so often that that is not the case. The best way to show them that is with a Miyagi Moment. It is time away from teaching the next chapter or lesson, but it is time well-spent.

I think blogger and math teacher John Trout McCrann put it beautifully in writing “Deep understanding about the process of solving an equation helps everyone understand how to create systems to solve problems at work, in their families, in our world. The kinds of problem-solving strategies you might use to tackle a big project, develop a more efficient engine, or address an issue that’s arisen between you and your partner. Deep understandings about shapes help everyone understand how to reason spatially, a skill that you may one day apply as a designer or as you lay out the furniture in your first house or apartment.”

About Me (Daniel Haiem):

  • I love math and education.
  • I’m an ex-physics teacher
  • I founded and lead a company called ClassCalc – the lockdown calculator app that lets teachers lock students out of all outside distractions such as instagram, calls and texts, keeping students focused in class, and preventing cheating on tests. Our goal is 100% access to calculators for students across the planet by 2025.

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

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