Reflection

Guest Post by April McKnight (@rilmcknight)

Reflection is concerned with consciously looking at and thinking about our experiences, actions, feelings, and responses, and then interpreting or analyzing them in order to learn from them. That is a big statement and a hard topic for our students. So how are we as educators supposed to work towards helping our students reflect on their thinking / learning and that of others.

So first I ask, as teachers and educators do we spend time on self reflection. Do we have the time to look back at our day of learning and “reflect on the information we receive through observation, experience, and other forms of communication to solve problems, design products, understand events, and address issues.” Yes that quote is straight out of our core competencies for critical and reflective thinking.

Yes I know every teacher is doing their self reflection in some way whenever they can but ho do we help students learn this process and see the benefits of reflection.

As a high school STEM educator, I always had reflection as part of my labs. We use our three go to questions for every lab:

What worked the best?

What needs to be tweaked?

What could we do to make it better?

This became common place in my classes and extended to all our work. Students would reflect on their own learning and ask each other to assess their work based on these questions.

As the new BC curriculum came around, I started to look at the self reflection during our projects. We have always looked at the process as more important. Photo journals or design changed diagrams or written reports were used to show their journey. But now we wanted to add in more self reflection along the way. After classroom discussions, it was decided that we would do weekly self reflection on large projects as a journal, blog or vlog. Students used the 3 questions to show their progress. The learning became very evident and assessment of their learning process was easier too.

I feel we need to all use reflection as part of our classroom routines and it wont feel so daunting in the end. It will make our assessment for, of and as learning much easier.

**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.

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To Be a Global Educator

Guest post by Ava-Gaye K Blackford (@BlackfordAva)

(I read this post and and agree with the foreword below, Ava is an inspiration and her passion for education is clear.)
From Ava’s blog

I had the pleasure of connecting with Ava through my work with Participate. I was helping to pilot a new professional development program, and Ava was one of the brave teachers who took a risk and learned alongside her students as they looked for ways to make their school lunch healthier through multiple student-driven avenues. I was immediately impressed with her motivation and excitement toward teaching and learning and her openness to feedback. Here’s what Ava believes about education and what she’s been up to since I last worked with her.


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I believe that teaching is the foundation for all other careers which requires compassionate and patient individuals who have a passion for scaffolding students and imparting knowledge. I feel that it is the ability to help others to acquire new information, competencies or values and implementing specific interventions to help students who need support to learn particular things. I also believe that teachers are born and not made. I know that I am an outstanding teacher because I am able to connect with and relate to my students to bring out their true potential. I also do not crumble under pressure or when I face obstacles instead I persevere. I am intrinsically motivated, and the reward I find in teaching is the personal satisfaction I obtain when I see students learn something new and achieve academic success and development. Being a part of the Participate international teaching program has been a very fulfilling and life-changing experience, and I recommend more teachers to gravitate towards this adventure.

My decision to join participate was due to several reasons. First, I wanted to share my culture by acting as a Cultural Ambassador so people can learn the uniqueness of my Jamaican culture as well as learning about other cultures. Secondly, I wanted the opportunity to travel the world, meet new people and build partnerships with stakeholders in the education system. Besides, I would be able to learn new strategies so that I may share with colleagues back home, learn about different technological devices, apps, and sites that may be used to boost students’ engagement and learning. Finally, to grow professionally as an educator. Reflecting on my journey thus far, I can safely say that I have achieved all of these goals and have grown into a productive Global Educator.

Currently, I have been assigned the role of Local Advisor. I have been granted the opportunity to guide two new Participate teachers and help them to transition smoothly in their new job position. As a local adviser, I serve as a mentor to new international teachers and share my own experiences, cultural opportunities, and ideas on how to be a successful exchange visitor teacher and cultural ambassador of their country.

School lunch project

School lunch project

 To be a successful exchange teacher, one has to capitalize on both human and physical resources present within the walls of the school to maximize students’ full potential, improve one’s self as a Global Educator and adjust to the school’s culture and climate. In my first year, I worked closely with the Academic coach to plan classroom routines and school-wide management procedures. The use of technology in my lessons made my work as a teacher easier because I am able to allow students to direct and take control of their own learning by conducting research, become involved in Project Based Learning, and participate in online quizzes. I researched different sites that I may use with students to boost active engagement and learning.

I share students’ work on Twitter, send emails and write letters to pen-pals in Jamaica and other countries like Mexico. We participate in video calls with students from Jamaica sharing culture or concepts learned, and we have even video called resource persons from Nigeria.

In addition, I try to globalize my lessons as much as possible. Students enjoy learning about other countries, and this makes learning more authentic and meaningful. I also collaborate with grade level teams to focus on differentiated learning opportunities for students to meet students where they are at. We also gather suitable resources and plan effective and developmentally appropriate instructional lessons and strategies. We progress monitor students and use data to set grade-level goals and identify students who need tier 2 or tier 3 interventions.

I have learned so much throughout my journey as a Participate teacher, and I have enjoyed sharing and showcasing my culture. My students and I participated in a Last Year’s Winter Celebration (December 2017) where were attired in Jamaican costumes and paraded for parents and community members to view. We also did a presentation where we sang Jamaican Christmas Carols like “Christmas a Come me Waan me Lama.” My colleagues, principal, students, and parents were fascinated by the performance, and we received positive feedback. This was the perfect opportunity to connect with the school community and bridge the gap between home and school.

Ava’s students learning about Jamaican culture.

Ava’s students learning about Jamaican culture.

We also prepared a Jamaican display for all to view, ask questions and learn about the Jamaican culture. Students seem to be eager to learn about other countries and cultures so by globalizing lessons this makes the teaching and learning process more meaningful and interesting. I have also done research and read about schools that have shown marked improvements in academics because of the inclusion of Global Education to the curriculum. This has helped me to develop a new level of understanding and depth to my teaching.

I have made a positive impact on my school and living community by allowing each stakeholder to develop vicarious experiences about my culture. In data meetings or team meetings, I help to include information about the Jamaican culture in our lessons. I also bring colleagues and community members Jamaican souvenirs, teach songs and stories from my culture and share past experiences about my country. I mount multiple display boards showcasing the Jamaican culture in the classroom, also during culture night and market day celebrations. For Market Day this past year, my students and I made Jamaican souvenirs such as key chains, flags, and bracelets. We were also mentioned in the Time News. You may click here to read the story.

Being a teacher means demonstrating the ability to provide authentic, engaging, meaningful and cultural learning experiences to cater to the needs of diverse learners. It also means equipping students with effective and efficient skills needed to function in a global society. I have learned to do this through imparting knowledge, skills, and attitudes required to be a global citizen, giving students the opportunity to build vicarious experiences and travel the world through virtual exchange. The world is becoming a smaller place due to advances in technology and mobility. Hence, students need to be globally prepared, develop self-awareness, cultural understanding and empathy so that they will be able to appreciate others and their culture. As Global educators, we should incorporate Global Instructional Practices used to integrate global concepts and lenses in the classroom meaningfully.

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My continuous participation in Professional Development activities has boosted my self-confidence and determination as an educator. When I return home to Jamaica, I also plan to conduct workshops to impart some of the fabulous strategies and interventions that I have learned here. I have already started sharing best practices with some of my colleagues back home, and they all seem to be loving them and are trying new things in their classroom.

Since writing this post, Ava was invited to present at Participate’s Global Schools Symposium on “Using Cooperative Learning Strategies to Boost Students’ Learning and Engagement”. In addition she attended a Life Lab PD in Santa Cruz, California, and she continues to inspire her students and the community through innovative projects like incorporating garden-based learning into the mainstream curriculum and being a facilitator at three of ABSS’ Core Four Professional Development workshop focusing on “Learning in the Outdoors.”

 

**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  

The “A” Word

  @deidre_roemer 

The first time I heard the word Autism I was teaching Early Childhood Special Education at an elementary school in Kapolei, Hawaii. It was very early in my teaching career, and I moved from teaching students with significant Emotional and Behavioral Disabilities in a self-contained setting at a middle school to teaching three and four year olds with various special needs in an inclusive setting with a Head Start class. Some of you may be thinking, why in the world would anyone move from Hawaii back to Wisconsin? That is an excellent question that I have asked myself regularly from November through February each year since, but my family is in the midwest. Family is more important that constant sunshine and living a few blocks from Waikiki Beach (at least that is what I tell myself :)).

As I reviewed the records of the students I would serve that year, I read about a young girl who was diagnosed with Autism. This was 1996, so it was long before Autism was as well known as it is now. It was also my first encounter with a learner who had the diagnosis. On our first day of school, her mom explained that she had echolalia (a new term to me at the time) and was a runner (another new term to me at the time). I quickly learned that echolalia meant that she repeated everything that was said all day long. Now, if you can get a picture of how much talking you do to a room of three and four-year-olds, you can see where someone following you around all day and repeating every word that you say is problematic. I also quickly learned that being a runner meant she takes off without warning and runs to anywhere and everywhere in the school and even out into the street. I had done all of my student teaching and my first couple of years of teaching working with older children who had a lot of mental health issues and behavior challenges, so this experience was certainly going to be a challenge.

I went home the first day beyond exhausted and started doing my research. This was at the time of dial-up internet, so getting access to information was not as easy and quick as it is now. I read lots of books and went to conferences. I used everything I had learned about shaping and helping learners control and change their own behavior to apply whatever strategies I could. I did not realize what I was doing at the time as there was not as much research available then about the science of the brain, but since I have learned about brain mapping and how you can create new neural pathways that make sense with where we found challenges and successes that year.

After the first few weeks of school, I realized that one of us was not going to make it through the school year if something did not change, and the four-year-old was winning. I started working closely with her parents, her doctor, other staff, and anyone else I could ask about strategies to help. We made visuals for everything and eventually trained her to follow cues to tell us what she needed instead of running away. The key to success was being more consistent in my practice than I had ever been before and making sure as a team we all used the same language and the same cues whenever we worked with her.

We ended up having a great year. She learned how to respond to real questions instead of repeating others, she told her mom she loved her for the first time (That was a great day!), she was able to play with others at recess with laughter, and she taught me a ton. I learned new ways to problem solve and how to see behavior as communication in a different way. I always understood that behavior was communication, but I was used to a lot of angry, acting out behavior. This was new stuff for me and helped me to see learners from an asset-based lens. This little girl, who happened to have Autism, had so many incredible gifts to offer the world; she just needed us to look for them in really unexpected ways. Although I went back to the mainland at the end of that year and back to working with older students, I have never forgotten all that she taught me that year and still talk about it almost twenty- five years later in sessions about how to work with children with unexpected behaviors in the classroom.

Since then, I have worked with many students who are on the Autism spectrum and their families. I know even more now about the communication, academic, and behavioral needs of these learners and have continued to learn so that I can help our teachers and leaders have the best skills to include them in every setting. I’ve learned about the entire spectrum and how varying the needs are across it. I know that if you know one learner with Autism, you know one learner with Autism and that what works for one rarely works for all. When I served as the Coordinator of Special Education for our school district, we started one of the first Autism specific programs for high school students in our area. We worked with grants and research organizations to get additional training for all teachers in understanding how to connect to and include students on the spectrum in meaningful ways. I have been able to support amazing teams of teachers and speech pathologists to develop a high school course based on the work of Michelle Garcia Winner in Social Thinking. Since then, our speech pathologists have expanded the work to running groups at most of our schools for students with special needs. Over the last two years, they have also trained many regular education teachers and school counselors to work with ALL learners on lessons in Social Thinking combined with the Zones of Regulation strategies from a very early age. Our goal is always that ALL of our learners can see their own place in a group, learn how to identify their needs, and learn strategies to feel empowered. When they understand their own social interactions and emotions, they are more likely to find a sense of belonging within a group and therefore want to contribute and create.

With all that I know now, you might be surprised to find out that it took me almost three years to use the word Autism in reference to our son, Nick. Our Nick has Autism, ADHD, and Dyslexia, which has turned out to be an opportunity to learn everything that is important in the world. Although professionally I knew a lot when we realized he was on the spectrum, you forget everything you know as a mom. It took me a long time to accept his diagnosis and talk about it with others. In a class for pre-service teachers at a local university, one of my students recently shared that one of her learners has “no support from home. His mom didn’t even come to his Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meeting.” I have been really open about Nick, his diagnosis, and why school getting it right is so essential in our class. My response that it took me three years to say the “A” word when it came to my son shocked her, and it made me realized I should talk about that more.

I have been open about sharing many of our success stories and what we have learned in the last several years both at work and with my family and friends. I don’t always talk about the time when we lived in a world of grief for what he might not become or denial that others just didn’t know him well enough. If that is how I felt with years and years of professional experience, how does someone feel who is trying to navigate an impossible system of medical care with no background or connections to resources to find the right support within the system? If I find IEP meetings ridiculously intimidating when I ran them for many years, how does it feel to be a parent without that background knowledge in a room full of experts talking about what is wrong with their child and our plan to help? I have the support of family and friends who stick by me even when I am not in a place to receive that help. I have access to resources through my professional networks and the privilege of being able to get him to multiple therapies and services each week with the support of my husband and extended family that not everyone has. We recognize that and are thankful for it every day. We certainly don’t have it all figured out by any means, but we have found some alternative therapies that are game-changers and were able to move him to a school that we thought was a better fit for him where he is thriving.

When I think about why I was so afraid of the “A” word, it comes down to not wanting him to be seen as his disability before someone gets to know him as a person. I had accepted that he has special needs for years, but I was really fearful of the “A” word because many people want you to know everything they know about Autism before they ask you or him one question about Nick as a person. He has this amazing, gentle spirit and sees the world in a really beautiful way. He just doesn’t show that side of himself to many people, which also took me a long time to realize as I have always been one of “his people” and made some assumptions that others were having a similar relationship with him to the one that I have.

My fear that his relationships would be defined by his label impacted me and kept me from teaching him to own who he is and express how he thinks differently about the world, why, and what he needs from others for a long time. I feared that others who have sympathy for him instead of empathy and therefore not hold him to the highest standard or simply ignore him if they didn’t understand the disability and that he is more than his label. He has made me a better educator and leader, as I am much quicker to try to see everyone and every situation from an empathetic lens. I don’t always need to be able to understand why someone feels a particular way to recognize that those feelings are real and take that into consideration with a response or some support. In the role I get to serve in now, our experience in supporting him helps me to know why every classroom needs to be a place where every learner feels embraced as part of the community, appreciated for the gifts they bring, and given opportunities to create in ways that connect to who they are even if who they are is different than what we would typically expect.

At the end of the day, we all have to remember that we are each doing the best we can. We each have different levels of education and life experience that contribute to who we are and how we respond to the next challenge life throws at us. People expected my acceptance to be different based on my experience, but it was not. I love my children as much as my parents loved me and as much as the parents we serve love their children. Those without the skills to navigate the system or the background to know what to do to support their child who learns differently in school love them just as much and really do want the best. They may just have a harder time showing it and being vulnerable enough to share their story with us. Given how long it took me to share mine, I get it.

Buncee: Learning Anywhere

Providing Ways to Keep the Learning Going

Over the past week, there has been a lot of conversation about what educators can do if schools need to close for a period of time, especially due to recent events related to the Coronavirus. Finding ways to extend the “space” of learning for our students has been a topic of discussion for many years, so it is not entirely something new. However, with the current situation, educators and schools are seeking to find the right resources that can be put into action right away.

Over the past few years, many schools have started to offer flexible learning days to deal with school closures due to weather conditions, environmental issues or something else entirely. Being able to keep learning going and have ways to collaborate without being in the same physical space is important. Having a specific platform or digital tool in place that all educators can use and making sure that all students will have access is very important. With so many choices out there, it can be tough to figure out exactly where to begin, especially when time is a factor.

As I’ve been talking with some friends this week, a large part of our conversation has focused on what to do if our schools were to close and even in the general sense, how can we also provide more for our students for times when we need to be out of the classroom? For times when I have not been able to be in class, whether due to illness or a pre-planned conference, I rely heavily on technology to be able to connect with my students so that they can ask questions and have the support they need. However, I also rely on it to provide them with rich learning experiences through versatile tools that they can work on independently wherever they are. With Buncee, we can work remotely and provide meaningful learning experiences that engage students in the digital space.

Buncee = Learning Anywhere

As I have been thinking about some of our recent Buncee projects, my 8th grade STEAM course has been working on a few activities. They have created an About Me Buncee, a few for gratitude and most recently, “Tech Over Time.” In the Tech Over Time project, students have been exploring the transformation of some digital tools or electronic devices over the past 10, 20, 30+ years and also making predictions for the future.

As students create, they can work from school, at home, or anywhere, and be able to share their work with me wherever I am. Teachers can assign fun projects for students or choose from the many ideas in the Buncee Ideas Lab.

We have used Buncee for years in all of my classes and through it I have been able to provide opportunities for my students to engage in more authentic and meaningful learning, to be creative and to drive their learning experience. Whether students use it to design a Buncee to share their experiences, engage in project-based learning, summarize a book they have read, explain a concept in math or science, for a few examples, the possibilities are endless for what students can create.

As teachers, we have so many choices for how we can use Buncee in our classrooms. It can be used to have students work through a Hyperdoc, or used as a model template for students to then create their own Buncee, make a timeline, solve word problems, and more. The idea is that we can leverage the tool to provide something that will connect with each student and it can be done from anywhere.

Ideas for your Classroom

1.Make an interactive book

2. Create a timeline

3. Design a digital business card

4. Explain steps in a process

5. Teach a lesson, add audio and video

6. Book summary

7. Design classroom signs

8. Create study aids

9. Create an ebook

10. Recreate a moment from history, personal experience, or make a future prediction

5 Ideas for Learning About Digital Citizenship

Digital citizenship is a topic that educators must continue to be mindful of within their classrooms and our schools. Because so many tasks involve the use of technology, it is our responsibility to embed digital citizenship into our lessons so our students are prepared and knowledgeable about the responsibilities that exist and also expectations of them when it comes to digital learning. There is an increase in technology being used in our classrooms, students have more access to digital resources and global connections than ever before, so regardless of our roles in education, we must stay current with issues, trends, and resources related to this topic. Digital citizenship skills have to be a part of what we teach and model for students, especially because we ask our students to do research, to collaborate online and perhaps even use social media as part of our coursework.

There are many resources available to learn more about digital citizenship, ranging from participation in virtual or in-person learning events held throughout the year to websites, books, blogs, and more that bring attention to and inform about this important topic. When I first started teaching about digital citizenship, I recall myself telling students the things that they should not do rather than focusing on how to use the tools safely and responsibly and showing how they could enhance learning. I recognize this now as I’ve researched more and become more aware of the different resources available for use in education today and following the conversations happening in different educational networks. And along with what’s being done out there, I believe that we need to convey the message to our students of how to use digital tools, to interact responsibly, and also share the importance of knowing how to use these tools for good.

Building these skills is critical because they will transfer to the real world space as well. For some students, they build confidence and comfort by interacting with peers and become better collaborators in an online space first, then apply these to the physical classroom setting and the real-world.

Here are five resources to explore and which offer activities for students to explore on their own and construct their own knowledge and apply it.

1. Events Educators can participate in Digital Citizenship Week, happening from October 14th through the 18th online. During this week-long event, educators can participate by connecting with other classrooms globally, joining in a panel discussion organized through the DigCit Institute and EduMatch Tweet and Talk, or listening to a DigcitIMPACT talk. Sign up on the website and stay connected by following the #digcitsummit hashtag on Twitter.

 

2. Online resources There are many interactive ways for students to explore DigCit topics. Common Sense Education’s Digital Compass provides interactive lessons, tutorials, and fun activities for students to engage in to learn about digital citizenship. One of the many benefits is that students choose how to proceed through the interactive lessons, and can see the positive or negative effects of these choices. Digital Compass addresses topics such as cyberbullying, fake news, social media, and more that are in alignment with today’s trends. Be Internet Awesome by Google has students explore four lands and complete activities and games to build their digital citizenship skills. This is another good way to let students drive their learning, to become curious and develop their own understanding in a space that is safe and that we can support. 21 things for students offers 21 different lessons on topics related to digital citizenship, technology skills, cyberbullying and more. Nearpod offers interactive lessons on Social Media use and topics related to Digital Citizenship in addition to many other content areas and levels.

3. Books Three books that I recommend are Digital Citizenship in Action by Dr. Kristen Mattson, Digital Citizenship in Schools by Mike Ribble, and Digcit Kids: Lessons Learned Side by Side to Empower Others from Around the World by Marialice Curran and Curran Dee. Each of these books offer a wealth of resources for getting started with lessons on digital citizenship and they provide activities for use in our classrooms. Dr. Mattson’s book is also used for the ISTE U Course on Digital Citizenship.

4. Social Media Students are using more social media, especially Instagram and Snapchat, and need to develop an understanding of how to post, the type of information that is okay to share, and how to interact responsibly and respectfully in these spaces. Depending on student grade level, it can be helpful to have students participate in a simulated Twitter chat, create a Padlet wall, or use post-it notes and a space in the room to have students create posts and write responses. It is important to help students understand how social media works and how to properly post. We want to emphasize the safety of our students and knowing how to distinguish between reliable and unreliable sources.

5. Organizations ISTE (the International Society for Technology in Education) offers a Professional Learning Network (PLN) focused on Digital Citizenship for members. In PLNs such as this one, educators can find many resources for teaching about digital citizenship that match the grade level, content area, and specific needs of their students. Individuals can sign up to be a part of the #digcitcommit movement. DigCitCommit is a coalition with the mission of providing educators with the right resources for teaching students about digital citizenship. Educators can sign the pledge and become more involved in promoting digital citizenship around the world.

To provide the best possible opportunities for our students to learn their roles and responsibilities when it comes to digital citizenship, we simply need to start with one of these resources and include it in our daily activities. The idea is not that it’s something extra added onto the curriculum but rather becomes woven into our classrooms each day throughout the year.

*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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Math Mentoring: The Struggle is Real AND it’s an Asset!

Struggling in math has been my greatest asset as a math teacher.  Remembering the pain of negative self-talk while feeling like giving up was my only option…well, math trauma is not easily forgotten. It’s why so many adults, decades after high school graduation, will still tell you they are bad at math. For me, the silver lining to that trauma has always been the ability to relate to my students, and even my own children, when they have math struggles.  One of the greatest compliments students and former students have shared with me is that math finally made sense to them when they were in my class.

One thing I’ve never said, and will never say, to my children is that I was bad at math.  Even as a new teacher, I asked parents not to say that to their children. Telling your children or students you are bad at math is like encouraging them to quit before they even begin.

Now, I have always told my students and children that I struggled in math.  We all understand what struggle means, and the good news is that there is always the possibility of winning in a struggle!  Every year, I tell them how I had to stay in at recess in first grade because I could not understand the concept of subtraction.  Crazily enough, my teacher had no idea how to teach it in a new way that made sense to me. She tried to explain it repeatedly in the same way…and it didn’t make sense to me for the longest time.  I also tell them about how in first grade I received a C in math and it made me feel terrible. I never wanted another C on my report card and made sure I never did again. That desire to make the Honor Roll (I was a middle child and wanted to stand out in some way, and academically was my route) kept me from quitting.  Math was a struggle, but I found a way to understand. As early as seven years old, I realized that quitting was not an option. Finding math success was never easy for me, but through my school years, I found what worked for me. This is what I share with my students hoping it will help them, too.

Addressing the Struggle at the Beginning of the Year

First week of school when I say the word “math”I look around to see who dreads the very word itself. It’s not just about reading expressions, but I look for patterns of misbehavior and any kind of drama that might commence when that dreaded word is spoken.  I always begin the year assuring my students that if they stick with me and trust me, as their math teacher, I will not leave them behind. I have promised that to my students for years, and I mean it with every fiber of my being. I explain that when they don’t quit, math can be fun like a puzzle.

What does it take to help children dig into math when they want to check out? It takes patience and time to do it to do it to do it to do it right, child, I got my mind set on math, I got my mind, set on math…

All singing aside (remember He gave me a melody *wink wink*), in a whole group lesson, the ones who get the concept easily, I normally allow them to begin the assignment and do it at their pace.  The students who have questions stick with me and the ones who are lost become a small group.

Helping my own child, a fifth grader review geometry!

What does helping kids through math struggle look like?

Sitting next to a child who struggles is important.  That nearness factor makes a difference. They know I won’t ignore them or allow them to pretend to work when really they are just doodling or trying to look busy.  See, by the time they reach fifth grade, they’ve pretty much given up. They don’t want the attention! One of my students, who was desperately struggling, knew how to look busy, so sitting next to me kept him from trying to con me that he was actually trying to solve problems.  He definitely tried to trick me, but I called him out. A few more times like this, and he knew I meant business. He stopped trying to look busy and started attempting the problems before him. Just attempting…finding a starting place to solve is huge when you struggle in math.  I remember this from my own childhood.

When students have progressed to where they begin solving problems more easily, I still encourage them to ask for help, but I do not let them come to me unless they have attempted the problem.  I can ask them, “What do you think you are going to do here?” or “Where do you think you should start?” They are so used to struggling and the teacher just giving them an answer that they often ask before even thinking about how/where they should begin.  Getting them to dig in and try to understand the problem is foundational in developing grit and sticking with the problem. When solving math equations or word problems, it’s truly important to have a place to stick information to, so beginning the problem and attempting to solve it gives them something to add or learn from. If they don’t think through this first part, a teacher’s lesson is like throwing darts into the dark without any specific target that will reach their students.

I also coach my students while giving notes. At some point, they may stop understanding. I coach them to keep taking the notes I give them, but make a note to themselves that this is where they have stopped understanding.  Again, I learned this from my own struggles. In fact, in my Algebra one course when the teacher was finished with the lesson and asked for questions, I was able to ask my questions clearly. To do this well, I had to turn off my negative self-talk.  If I allowed my negative self-talk to take over, the only thing I heard from that point on was me telling me how stupid I was and how I was the only person not understanding. In place of negative self-talk, I encouraged myself to take a deep breath and remind myself that even though I didn’t understand the concept just then, I knew I would eventually if I didn’t shut down.  That allowed me to keep paying attention and sometimes even cleared my confusion. When I shut down, this wasn’t possible.

Something else that helps students is allowing them to talk about patterns they notice.  Whether they struggle or not, when they notice a math pattern, letting them talk it out with the rest of the class will help everyone!! Worst case, it’s also a way a  teacher can help clear up misconceptions early on. The best math teachers for me were my peers. Sometimes students identify specific items that make a world of difference for their peers. My son is in third grade and has a more natural way of understanding math than his older sister.  Whenever he notices a pattern, he stops and we have an entire conversation about it. He truly amazes me. We can, and should, help our students learn the patterns because often times when they figure it out for themselves, they feel more confident and the knowledge isn’t dumped after an assessment. My son talking about the patterns he sees also helps his older sister and younger sister think through that math pattern, too.  That’s a win!!

It’s a Journey

For students who struggle in math, it is an emotional journey.  When teachers stop and say, “I know you are struggling, and I’m here to help, and I won’t go on until you understand,” it’s a balm for our students’ insecure nerves. When they are fifth graders coming to me, they usually have three to four years of feeling left behind.  Hoping to help my struggling students, my mindset is firm that their struggles stop with me and I do all in my power to get them to grow and decrease any learning gaps.

Over time, I have developed the wisdom necessary to see when students quit before even trying or when they are totally overwhelmed.  It’s important to know the difference because both situations require different responses. The quit-before-trying-learner needs a firm reminder of not giving up and figuring out a place to start, while the overwhelmed learner needs to know they can take a break or use another method to help them.

Helping students dig into math struggles is such a beautiful way to help them learn perseverance and purpose.  When they decide to lean into the struggle, they form a mental confidence that can’t be stolen from them. Can you see how facing their insecurity in math can help them in other areas of life, too? Having a teacher who will go the whole distance means everything for these students, and many times, changes a negative academic course into a new path of learning and goal setting!  I have seen the glory! I have seen the joy of confidence from the same student who broke down and cried with me at one point. So yeah…when my students have told me that my fifth grade class was the first time math made sense to them, I feel like I’ve earned an Oscar!

Resources 

Have you heard of the book written by Alice Aspinall called Everyone Can Learn Math? Recently, I read it with my five children and it sparked great discussion.  My oldest, who is currently in fifth grade, found the main character, Amy, very “relatable.” Amy feels the math struggle deeply and so does her mom! I would recommend this book for every parent and educator to keep in their home or classroom library.  I know we will be pulling it out to reread a lot. It’s also a good way to combine your academics. Author, Alice Aspinall also recommends Adding Parents to the Equation by Hilary Kreisburg and Matthew Bayranevand.

Also, have you heard of Nearpod and Flocabulary? When I went back into teaching public school a few years ago, they were the first technologies that I implemented in my lessons.  My students and children love it. They can be personalized or differentiated for the different level of learning going on in your classroom. These resources are engaging and will definitely make a difference in small group learning.  The coolest part is now they are together!!!

Before Christmas, I went to the Anchorage Barnes & Noble and bought some new books by Jo Boaler in hopes of helping me grow in teaching and understanding the math struggle: What’s Math Got To Do With ItMathematical Mindsets, and Limitless Mind.  There is another book calledMath Recess: Playful Learning in an Age of Disruptionby Sunil Singh that I hope to purchase and read. All of these books, and both of these authors, are mentioned frequently when the topic of math struggles come up–and they do frequently! We can also Google their videos!

What are resources that have helped you? Let’s work together to help our students learn through the math struggle!

**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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Authentic Writing You Can Do … with your Students!

Guest post by Sarah Kiefer, @kiefersj

 

I’ve shared several times that as a Technology Integration Specialist, I do not have my own classroom of students. Nor do I have any kind of regular teaching schedule. This allows me to work with any teacher and any group of students! My goal is that anything/everything I do supports classroom instruction and I love when teachers come to me and ask me to work with students. Sometimes, what we set out to do morphs into something else … and it’s always a good thing!

At the beginning of March, Mrs. Laura Counts approached me to help a group of her students. These 5 students had read several books by Sandra Markle (@Sandra_Markle) and had decided they wanted to write their own book, in her style. Laura asked if I would help. Wow! They wanted to do the research, writing, AND the designing of the book!

The overall task was → the students were inspired after reading a non-fiction book to write their own book. As a group, they decided to research bird feet and each selected a bird that interested them. They would use their research to write in the style of Sandra Markle. Meanwhile, I would work with them to take their writings and make it into a book.

We set to work. I met with the students a couple times a week to work on the actual book design and on the other days, they would do their research. I had such fun talking through the design process … we had a LOT of decisions to make! Which tool do we use? Book Creator? Google Slides? Something else? We settled on Slides. Then we poured over every detail … the dimensions of the book (we literally pulled out a ruler to measure!); making the wooden sign; which font(s) to use – this was a BIG conversation … do we all use the same? does each author use a different one?; whose page goes first? last? order?; gathering the credits for the images we used; and many more! I have to hand it to these 5 kiddos. They did an AMAZING job! They put forth their very best. It really shows!

A very interesting conversation we had very early on was whether or not Ms. Markle would be “mad” they were writing this. One of the boys was worried she would be angry. I asked him why, and basically he was worried she would think we were copying her. I assured him we weren’t going to profit off of this and we would be giving her the credit. Mrs. Counts added that she thought Ms. Markle would be thrilled we were doing this. I offered to reach out to her. I did so, via Twitter – our world really isn’t as big as one would think! – and she responded very quickly! It was awesome to be able to show them that the author was proud of them.

We used several digital tools to help us create our book. One of our favorites is a website “Build Your Wild Self” from the Bronx Zoo (unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be available anymore). Then we also used a couple of “digital scissors” — https://online.photoscissors.com/ (to be able to take the “wild self” and attach their specific bird legs) and https://www.remove.bg/ (for our author pages – not shown in the preview below because of the age of the students). Showing the students the power of a Google Slide was incredible! I don’t know who enjoyed it more, them or me!

I am happy to share the final version of their book! The attention to detail and the excitement of these students showed through this whole project is heartwarming. I’m not sharing their author pages due to their age, but several of them have commented on wanting to be authors! ……. I believe they already are!

*** Link to a published Slides that shares the majority of the book the students created.

 

 

**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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THOSE KIDS: A Connection Makes A Difference, but Does it Make THE Difference?

Guest post by 

Opinions expressed are those of the author.

I recently followed a chat that started from the claim that all a student needs to be is liked. That all they need is a connection or relationship or positive interaction with an adult. Initially I thought of course I agree, but after some time of that idea rattling around in my head I changed my mind. I don’t think I agree. I would still agree that connections can and do make a huge difference. I just don’t think they make THE difference.

20190517_123745702418090265244780.jpgI work in alternative education. I work with really challenging kids. THOSE KIDS. The ones who didn’t make it in other schools. The ones who know incarceration and the system. The ones who know trauma and abuse and pain and abandonment. The ones who know failure. These kids don’t like me when they enter my classroom. They don’t like anyone. They don’t care if I like them. They are quite used to no one liking them. They don’t care about grades and learning and futures. They don’t plan. They don’t have goals. They don’t dream. They don’t have hope.

So I have to connect with them and I have to do it fast. I have found that I relate to these kids. I get them. Maybe it’s my own quirkiness or off-beat sense of humor or stubborn streak or willingness to do about anything to make that connection – smile, laugh, sing, dance, tell jokes, laugh at bad jokes, pat backs, give hugs, and just never stop trying. They push me away, but I come back. Again. And again. And again. Until finally they push back a little less, and if I’m lucky, they stop pushing back at all. That is connection and it is the absolute first step. No question. It will be the foundation for everything that comes next.

Next. That is the thing that I think has gotten lost. It’s not the connection that’s the most important thing. It’s the next. Jump into any education chat or conversation and you will hear the word connection and relationships, but it’s becoming this idea that if I make a connection with my student then that is all they need. If I care enough or like them enough or love them enough or if we talk enough or have enough in common then that will make a difference to my students. And it will. It will make A difference, but I don’t think it’s enough to make THE difference.

We need the next. They need the next. Think about the process of building a house. When carpenters build a house they build the foundation first. It is what supports everything. But once they have a foundation, they keep going. They build the walls and 20191218_180417-16324819778329009069.jpgthe roof and they put in duct work and plumbing and electrical. It’s finished off with paint and flooring and appliances and décor. There are so many steps that come after the foundation. There are so many steps to building a completed house. If they stopped after the foundation, then they don’t have a house. They just have a piece of concrete.

We, as educators, we need to build the house for our students. Let’s build a foundation. Let’s work hard and quickly to make connections and build relationships, but then let’s not stop there. Let’s do something with that foundation. Let’s give them walls and a roof – a framework to support them. We can teach social skills and coping skills. How to enter a classroom and take turns and ask for help. How to approach tasks independently and with their peers. How to adjust to different procedures and expectations. How to make mistakes. How to celebrate successes. How to work through problems. How to find an answer. How to ask for help. How to be a successful student but also a successful member of society. Let’s give them all the systems inside that house – let’s bring that house to life. We can teach them academics. We can fill in the gaps while giving opportunities for new growth. It may look different than how other students learn and they may need to express what they know differently, but they will learn. They will learn mistakes aren’t failures. They will learn to try again. They will experience success. Knowledge is a powerful thing. So is confidence. Let’s decorate their house. Personalize it. Make it belong to each individual student. Let them be creative. Think outside the box. Celebrate individuality. Find their own unique strengths and weaknesses. Let’s make that house their own.

20191218_1806315978855054264078087.jpgLet’s do something with the connections we work so hard to make. Let’s use those foundations we’ve built. Let’s push our students out of their comfort zone. Let’s move past easy and complacent and good enough. Let’s set high expectations. Let’s push them to struggle and even fail. But then let’s teach them to persevere and to adapt and to overcome. It will be hard for them and us. We will all get tired and experience frustrations, but it’s what they need. And they will be okay because we will there. We will support them and guide them and believe in them and teach them. We use that connection that we created in the beginning to be our foundation to support everything we do next.

 

**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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On Vulnerability

Guest Post By Dustin Pearson, @DustinPearson2

We Are One Team Blog

Opinions expressed are those of the guest blogger

 

Dear We Are One Team Family

A new year always brings a time of optimism, goal setting, and resolutions. Like millions of others I am no different, I am a goal setter. Not only am I a goal setter, I am a big one. I enjoy setting goals and putting together a plan to accomplish them. However big or small, they are fun and give me something to work for. One of the constant themes I have noticed is people making a goal to be more vulnerable.

Vulnerable is defined in the dictionary as, “susceptible to physical or emotional attack or harm.” There are other definitions, but this definition definitely does not align with this piece. Vulnerability for this piece is putting yourself out there and sharing personal information as a way to connect and grow. With 2020 less than 18 hours away this is a great time to share, connect, and grow as a person.

People that know me know I am a private person, and writing this piece is rather difficult.Those that know me know that kindness, love, compassion, and humility are greatly apart of my life. I share it as with as many people as I come across. It is a foundation of my classroom, and I have been rather successful with it. What very few people know about me is that. I have suffered from depression, at times deep, and severe anxiety for several years. It has taken me a while to accept and find coping practices that work, but I have found those and have accepted that it is perfectly ok to have depression and anxiety. Unfortunately millions of citizens including educators fight these battles. At times the most basic things seem insurmountable and having conversations with others feels like getting your teeth pulled.

I don’t know where my depression and anxiety came from. It could be a combination of losing a close family member to suicide last winter break, constant self doubt, shame of who I am, negative mindset, comparing myself to others, being a natural introspective person. The last one I believe is a major factor. I am a thinker and it is easy to get lost in your thoughts which can be a good and bad thing. It took until having a severe panic attack which I thought I was not capable of a 5 years ago to realize I needed help, and had to make some lifestyle changes.

Those that ask how I teach with depression and anxiety, well it is one of the easiest things I tackle. Understanding that our students battle these same things everyday. I have a deep compassion for what they go through and we are a team that grows and learns together. I also become self aware of what I go through, learn about depression and anxiety,  and adopt different changes things that work for me. For example, I stay busy, I go for walks in the building during my prep, I check on my colleagues, and say hello to every student I come across, and I love going to school. I love being with my students, teaching, growing, and achieving together.

Outside of school I see a therapist regularly to organize my thoughts, I take medication, I am an avid weightlifter. I am pretty darn strong. I also read and write, and look for ways to continue to grow. I have grown to love challenges and change. What used to literally make me shake and bring tears to my eyes is now one of my favorites, and is a great learning experience. The biggest impact on myself was the adoption of a mindfulness lifestyle. I meditate everyday, practice yoga 3-5 times per week. I am quite talented with my balance poses, and I am a firm believer in what citizens such as the Dalia Lama share with others.

One of the biggest challenges  was my shift in mindset, this change did not happen overnight. I was never a pessimistic person, but I needed to make changes for the benefit of my health. I have always wanted to help, guide, and love others. In years past anxiety crept up and made this area more difficult to achieve. I worried what others thought which held me back. Now, I couldn’t care less what others think about about me and what I believe in. I absolutely love helping others, spreading kindness, compassion, and love. These qualities are who I am as a person and who I want to surround myself with. I know the people who want to be a part of my life with gravitate in my direction.

Lastly, I have become a strong advocate for mental health, the stigma must stop. I suffer from mental health issues, and I am perfectly ok with it. I am in a great spot and have never felt better. Will it always be this way, no!  Does that worry me, absolutely! I will take on that challenge, grow, and we will do this together. I am far from a finished product, I will have to battle this for the rest of my life, I can do this, and so can you.

If we are entrusted with taking care of our students we must take care of ourselves and each other. How can our students learn and grow as individuals if they don’t have a person to guide them through challenges they face. Our students need us and we all need each other.When someone wants to talk, listen, and listen with intention. Check in with your students, colleagues, and most importantly yourself. Everyone who reads this and shares it with others has so much value to this world. I am grateful for each and everyone of you.

It’s okay not to be okay, and we are here for you. Mental health is just as important as physical health and our community of compassion, love, understanding, and growth will only help remove the stigma, and accept each other for the faults and challenges we face. My attempt at vulnerability was this piece, and I am proud to share it with you.

WE ARE ONE TEAM

-Dustin

 

 

 

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