Creating an Action Plan Through Reflection

Guest Post by Debbie Tannenbaum @MrsTannenb

During Winter Break, I read three amazing and thought-provoking books. Each one provided me with new ideas, takeaways and made me examine my practice. The last book I finished was Innovate Inside The Box by George Couros and Katie Novak. As I began reading Part Three: You Are The Change You Seek of this book, George issues this challenge, ” We can consume pages and hours of great content, but until we do something with it, we have no ownership over the process of learning. He then asked the reader to reflect on these three questions based on our reading

1. What has challenged you?

2. What has been reaffirmed?

3. What will you do moving forward?

When I began to consider what challenged me from my reading, I really had to stop and think. Having already read Innovator’s Mindset last year and having prior experience with UDL, so much of what I read in this book resonated with me.

As I returned to school on Monday, several ideas from my reading kept bubbling up in my mind.

1. Shifting our focus and practice to be learner-driven and evidence-focused

2. What does risk mean?

3. Encouraging problem-finding and not just problem solving

Learner-Driven, Evidence Focused

In chapter 2 of the book, George Couros describes how he dislikes the term data-driven. Working in a model PLC school, there is no doubt that we spend a lot of time on data- in fact, some months, with increased testing, it feels like all we do is collect data. So when I read this, it gave me pause. Are we truly learner centered? Are we telling the story of the whole child? Are we preparing students for their futures or to meet benchmarks and goals based on our school improvement plans?

This section really led me to question our practices as educators. It made me examine why we do things the way we do, why I do things the way I do? Is the support I provide “opening doors” to the future? If so, are there any ways that I can further tweak this to make it more learner centered?

Risk-takers

In chapter 5, George and Katie discuss risk-taking, which is one of the characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset. As I read this, their definition of risk caught my attention and made me look at risk through a different lens. I have always called myself a risk-taker, an early adopter, but reading this definition made the WHY behind it so clear. “Risk is moving from a comfortable average in pursuit of an unknown better.“Looking at risk through this lens took the negative connotation usually associated with this word away. It equated risk with innovation.

As a tech coach, I am constantly not only taking risks, but modeling it for all my learners. How can I better empower my learners through the use of UDL to develop more agency and risk-taking.

Problem Finders- Solvers

Chapter 6 shares how when we act as problem finders-solvers, we demonstrate an Innovator’s Mindset. In the district I work in, we have been heavily immersed in PBL or Project/Problem Based Learning. In late November and early December, one of our PBL Leads even came to our CLTs to help us plan upcoming PBL units. I love the idea of PBL and giving our students authentic purposes for their learning.

So when the idea of being a problem finder was introduced, I looked a little closer. I love this idea; it reminds me of 20% time and Passion Projects. It sounds amazing, but once again, time seems to be a culprit. How can we provide time for students to cultivate such endeavors while covering the curriculum? Could we involve students more in planning our PBLs beyond just the “Need to Knows?”

Reading this book reaffirmed so many things for me especially as I CHALLENGE myself this year to establish healthier habits and take more risks.

In chapter 3, as George and Katie described the importance of empowerment and shared how it leads to ownership and agency. It reminds me of how Ron Ritchart emphasized the importance of language when I attended WISSIT19 this summer.

In chapter 4, George and Katie share the importance of not only being a master educator, but also a master learner. If I have learned anything this break, it has been what a dramatic impact that reading 10-15 minutes a day can make in my learning. “In a profession where learning is the focus of our job, growth is essential and the target is always moving.” We all need to embrace that mantra and model being lifelong learners for our colleagues and students

So as I look towards the future, what will I do moving forward? The first thing that came to my mind was reflection. As part of #myoneword2020, I CHALLENGE myself to journal regularly. Journaling is such a huge component of reflection. George shares, “Reflection is what links our performance to our potential.” As I journal and monitor my goals daily, I am focused on my goals and making progress towards them. Linked to that is the idea of self care. ” When our job is about serving other people, we have to not forget to serve ourselves.” Moving forward, I CHALLENGE myself to be committed to healthier eating, regular exercise, doing activities that fill my bucket such as blogging, reading and writing. Dedicating time each morning to this pursuit has been so inspirational so far.

“Is there a better way?” Sometimes there is and we need to take a risk. Other times, we need to examine if what we are currently doing meets our students’ needs. But behind it all, there are so many ways we can take our learners and the relationships we build with them and empower them for an amazing future. I am ready to take the CHALLENGE, are you?

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**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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Its 2019, and now I actually have a calculator (app) everywhere I go. Why do I need to learn math again?

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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Future Ready with IT Security

Guest post from Rachael Mann

As Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “…but in this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”, to which I would like to now respectfully add, “and technology.”

The dreaded circle of death can take many forms. My love-hate relationship with technology is relatable with everyone it seems. We’ve all been there- the projector isn’t working, the internet is stalling, or in my most recent scenario, repeated laptop failure. While working on the final chapters for my new book earlier this Spring, a message popped up saying that my power was low and to reconnect to a charger before my laptop went to sleep. I quickly went to plug in my laptop only to realize it was already plugged in. I tried a different outlet, but the message persisted. After trying different outlets in another room, I realized I was going to have to make a quick run to the Apple store to purchase a new charger.

The person assisting me at Apple suggested that I set up an appointment for later in the day to troubleshoot the problem and see if there was another underlying issue. The technician assured me that it was a routine check and that there was nothing to worry about after I expressed my fear that I would lose the data that wasn’t backed up. The “routine check-up” escalated to three technicians working to solve the problem as now the login screen wouldn’t take me back to my home screen. Five anxiety-ridden hours later, I was finally able to leave the store with my MacBook working like a brand new computer again.

The following Monday, due to a teacher shortage, I received a request to do a presentation on one of our campuses. Since most of my work is with teachers, I jumped at the opportunity to spend the afternoon in a high school classroom working directly with students. I rushed over and arrived at the same time that the students were piling in. I quickly set up my laptop and connected the projector, only to see that the dreaded message that had popped up at the Apple store only a few days earlier was once again on my screen.

Fortunately, the students had assignments to do for their IT class and were able to work independently. The IT specialist for the campus came to my assistance, but when he saw the message and realized that it was a personal computer, not one of the school’s devices, he could not offer his services after all.

With the students still working on their own, I took the window of time as an opportunity to call the Apple hotline. After 30 minutes of troubleshooting and still no progress, I resolved myself to the fate of spending another full evening at the Apple store. As I walked away from the laptop to see if any of thee students needed assistance, but a student who had been observing my challenge piped up and said, “Miss, I am a certified technician, can I look at your computer?”.

Several students protested, saying don’t let Peter work on it, he breaks everything! At this point, iI figured it couldn’t get any worse, and I was intrigued by this student’s curiosity and confidence, so I agreed to let Peter help me.

After a few clicks, other students began to gather around. What started as a failed attempt on my part had spontaneously turned into a class project. Some of Peter’s classmates began looking up solutions while others were yelling out commands. At one point, multiple kids were saying, “No, not the Kernel!. I thought this was a new slang word from this younger generation and told them to keep it down, later learning that “the Kernel” was actually a term for a code that he was using. They were speaking a foreign language to me!

As Peter continued to troubleshoot, another screen showed that it wasn’t bootable. From the other student’s expressions, I knew this was a bad thing.

At this point, I began mentally preparing myself for purchasing a new laptop and hoping that I had saved my presentation for Pennsylvania, where I was traveling to the next day, in iCloud. After a short time, Peter asked me to log in. He had finally fixed what the tech specialist at his own school, Apple phone support, and several Apple techs in the store, could not accomplish. My evening was once again free and my trip to Pennsylvania would not incur the price of a new computer to deliver my presentation.

This is what Career and Technical Education is all about. Giving students real-world experiences and skills that will serve them as they decide to move forward on their career path.

I asked Peter about his plans after graduation and he shared that he may get another certification, join the military, or pursue a career in cybersecurity. I have since learned that he was offered a job by one an advisory council member from the program and is now employed locally by Code Ninjas.

Regardless of the paths that his classmates choose, at its’ very core, nearly every career imaginable is a technology career. While it may seem that I am overstating, as Peter Diamandis said in Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World, “Right now, there is another asteroid striking our world, already extinguishing the large and lumbering, already clearing a giant path for the quick and nimble. Our name for this asteroid is “exponential technology,” and even if this name is unfamiliar, its impact is not.”

To be successful in any field now requires having a strong technology skill set. This program will equip students with that critical tool.

Early on when the internet was just beginning to explode, it was common to hear professionals typing away on their trusty typewriter and stating, “this internet thing is just a fad”. Fast forward to a mere two decades later and “this internet thing” has not only proven that it is here to stay, it has now become a way of life. Technology will advance, whether we agree to join or not. Those who decide to keep pace will own the future.

Now, the greatest challenges facing the world can also be viewed as the greatest opportunities for our students in classrooms in every corner of the world. As educators, it is our privilege, as well as our responsibility, to give students the opportunity to start tackling big problems now, problems that could lead to initial failure, but ultimately lead them to their own success – which in this case, became my success as well.