Learning as I go: Experiences, reflections, lessons learned

Rachelle Dene Poth @rdene915 #FUTURE4EDU #QUOTES4EDU #THRIVEinEDU

teach

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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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

 

 

 

In education today, there have been a lot of discussions in regard to what skills students may need for the future. Many times we hear conversations about “21st-century skills” and how to best prepare students for life and work in the 21st century. Often these 21st-century references are followed by reminders that we are well into the 21st century. We are not only thinking of the future, but these are also the skills that our students need today.

According to Alan November, keynote speaker and international leader in educational technology, there are certain skills that students need and that teachers need to promote within the classroom. Students need to be taught “how” to learn and prepare for more than knowing the content, by developing skills that are transferable to multiple areas of life and work. During a keynote presentation, November stated: “I think we should begin to move more and more toward the skill side, because if we teach you to memorize and regurgitate content and your job is wiped out by technology, you’re not well prepared to reinvent yourself if you didn’t learn how to learn.”

November’s message reinforces the importance of students developing skills such as being able to communicate, collaborate, problem-solve, think critically, to name a few. These are some of the key skills that will enable students to be adaptable to whatever type of work they ultimately find or whatever the next steps are once they leave high school. They are skills they will need whether they enroll in college, seek employment, pursue specialized training, or even take a gap year to decide. With changes in technology and in the capabilities when it comes to learning and the future of work, we can’t truly know what employers will look for five years down the road. The best we can do is to give students access to the right tools to equip themselves with not only the content that we are teaching, but infuse the curriculum with choice through independent learning and exploration of interests that students have. An important goal in schools today should be for students to drive their own learning and develop skills that are authentic and meaningful for learning but at the same time are unique to them.

Changing the Look of Schools and Learning

We’ve heard about the “gig economy” and how students need to have the capability of working in different industries and with different types of work. In a gig economy, each job or work assignment is comparable to an individual “gig” or temporary employment. The generation do-it-yourself (DIY) ties into that same thinking. We need for students to do more than simply consume content, we need for them to create and beyond just creating with the content we have given them, they need to come up with their own questions and problems to be solved. Students need to be the designers of their learning journeys.

So what can we do to help our students become part of Generation DIY?

We need to give students the space to design their own learning path and to take charge of their education. There are a lot of instructional strategies that lend themselves to this “generation do-it-yourself” such as a genius hour, project-based learning, service-learning, experiential learning, and makerspaces, among others. As educators, what can we do to ensure that all students have an equal opportunity to explore and have access to whatever it is that they might need? How can we truly know what they will need in the future to enable us to help them? We can best prepare by giving and being open to options that diverge from the traditional look of schools and learning.

Schools around the country have started to offer more courses based on emerging trends and what the “predictions” are for future-ready skills. Some courses or components of courses available in schools, including my own, are entrepreneurship, web design, sports and entertainment management, and other courses with content and opportunities to help students develop the skills necessary to design their own learning journeys. Students need more real-world opportunities to engage in that connect them with their community and develop the skills to assess needs in the community and globally, and brainstorm ways to offer services that will be beneficial for others. It happens that educators often assume that students have certain skills, for example, they know how to use and leverage technology effectively because they have grown up in a technology-infused era. However, the reality is quite different. We need to make sure that students have time to learn basic skills and then can push themselves to go beyond. Students need time to learn to adapt and be flexible and move beyond the traditional format of school and move into more learning that does not necessarily have clear-cut specifications.

Options for Generation DIY

You might wonder what options exist for students in the Generation DIY. Here are a few ways for students to explore different choices after high school that would promote some of the skills they will need as they prepare for the uncertainty of the future of work and learning.

  1. Schools can consider creating more opportunities for students through Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs. Through these programs, students can explore careers and work on building skills that are transferable to diverse types of work. When students have access to  CTE programs, they get to look into emerging trends in the workforce, explore different careers and walk away with certifications that can increase their marketability in the workforce. For students who may be unsure of the next steps after graduation, CTE programs can offer them time to be curious by exploring possible career options, while developing their skills in high school.
  2. Place-based education gives students the opportunity to explore their communities, learn about the geography and immerse more in authentic learning by stepping out into the “real-world” for more meaningful ways to develop skills in math, social studies, science, language arts, and other content areas. There are six design principles in PBE, which are not required as part of the place-based education, however, when they are included, lead to more authentic and higher quality experiences. The Place Network is a collaborative of rural K-12 schools which provides a wealth of resources for learning more about PBE and becoming a PBE school.
  3. Service learning programs give students an opportunity to learn by exploring real-world issues, even investigating on a global scale and then taking action in their own community. Educators can implement methods such as project-based learning or inquiry-based learning to engage students more by addressing problems or challenges identified in their local environment. Involving students in service learning programs gives them the chance to build skills for the future and learn about their own interests in the process.
  4. The Generation DIY Campaign is aimed at giving students the chance to “chart” their own course through high school and college by exploring different careers and developing diverse skills that are transferable to multiple areas of work. The Generation DIY toolkit provides information and resources for educators and students to get started and also includes personal stories about the process and impact of Generation DIY.
  5. Artificial intelligence (AI) is a growing area in which students can design their own technologies to address issues they identify in the world. AI use is increasing and students can become the creators of AI that can possibly change the way students learn, by creating things like chatbots, or learn how to code and create a virtual assistant. There are many tools available for students to explore how AI is used in everyday life and design their own project based on  AI. These technologies help students to build skills in problem-solving, critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity, to name a few, which are essential skills for whatever the future holds for them.

In the end, it comes down to the different choices that we make available for students in schools today. While we certainly cannot predict the jobs that will exist in 10 years, when the current kindergarten students will be entering their high school years, the best way to prepare is by having options in place and connecting school and community.

All books available at  bit.ly/Pothbooks

It has  been quite a year. Three books  published this year, looking back to one year ago as I was writing all three, very different books at the same time. But  the book In Other Words came to me as I was preparing to work  on The Future is Now.  It stemmed from a quote:

Teddy Roosevelt once said, “I am a part of everything I have read.” When I read his quote, it greatly resonated with me because of my love of quotes and the impact they can have in our lives. In Other Words is a book full of inspirational and thought-provoking quotes that have pushed my thinking, inspired me and given me strength when I needed it. The book shares stories around the importance of growing ourselves as educators, knowing our why, as well as learning from and embracing failures and taking risks with learning so we can become our best selves for those we lead and learn with.

Get your signed copy here: bit.ly/Inotherwordsbook

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There are stories shared by educators with different backgrounds and different perspectives. My own experiences and interpretations and the educator vignettes shared by my PLN (Personal or Professional Learning Network) will hopefully push your thinking, inspire you, and provide whatever it is that you need. My hope is that by sharing our stories, it will inspire you to share yours.

 

There were many people involved throughout this journey. I reached out to members of my PLN and friends to include as many educators and students as possible. I  wanted to share more than just my story, but rather many stories and experiences.   This book is one that can be read by anyone, not just people in education. There are many quotes, unique personal experiences, beautiful graphics and more.

About the book #Quotes4EDU

In this book, I share some of my experiences and reflections based on quotes. I have included the stories of different educators in the form of vignettes or guest chapters. One chapter was written by two of my students and my book cover was drawn by one of my 9th-grade students. The story behind the book cover is included at the beginning of the book.  The book is available on Kindle or in paperback: bit.ly/Inotherwords  A few of the stories are available for listening on Synth. gosynth.com/p/s/pyzbnm  

Chapter Authors
Dennis Griffin
Maureen Hayes
Holly King
Elizabeth Merce
Melissa Pilakowski
Laura Steinbrink
Amy Storer
Donald Sturm
Cassy DeBacco
Celaine Hornsby
Vignettes
Marialice B.F.X. Curran
Jon Craig

Kristi  Daws

Sarah Fromhold
Jeff Kubiak
Matthew Larson
Jennifer Ledford
Kristen Nan
Toutoule Ntoya
Paul O’Neill
Zee Ann Poerio
Rodney Turner
Heather Young
Graphics 
Michael Mordechai Cohen
Dene Gainey
Manuel Herrera
Shelby  Krevokuch
Amber McCormick
Dana Ladenburger
Heather Lippert
Scott Nunes
Chris Spalton
Tisha Richmond
Monica Spillman
Laura Steinbrink
Kitty Tripp
Julie Woodard
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Thank you Kristi Daws for creating these images!!

 

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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  

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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 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.

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Guest Post by:

 Peg Grafwallner, Instructional Coach/Reading Specialist, Ronald Reagan IB High School, Erica Breitbarth, Music Teacher, Ronald Reagan IB High School

One of my favorite ways to spend the first block is to observe a music class. I am an
Instructional Coach and Reading Specialist at a large, urban high school. I collaborate with dozens of teachers by supporting them in embedding literacy into their classroom teaching with disrupting their learning objectives. This particular morning I observed Ms. B’s Beginning Chorus class. As students practiced their scales, Ms. B played the piano and offered instructions. She encouraged students to use Curwen hand signals to align to the notes. These hand signals offer a kinesthetic connection to the notes giving students the chance to, according to Ms. B, “visually and spatially represent the sound they are producing.”

As students were practicing their scales, I noticed explicit similarities between reading and music; and most notably, reading in music. Ms. B. prefaced the lesson’s song by offering background on the composer and the arranger. Frequently, the background of an artist can be directly related to the piece they create. Therefore, that background is often analyzed to make meaning from the piece. Likewise, when I introduce a short story, I always share with students the background of the author. Often, the author’s interesting life experiences is a hook to get students interested. As an example, the life of Edgar Allan Poe is as emotionally complex as his poem, “Annabelle Lee.” Therefore, it is beneficial to spend time on the connections between author and text and in this case, between the composer and the music.

6E56F311-72C8-4FAC-83B5-79D1E9CCAF0ANext, Ms. B asked her students to listen to the introduction of the song and try to predict
what it was about. What mood did the piece evoke? How did it make them feel? These questions encouraged students to imagine what the composer or musician is saying within the music. What do they want us to know, to feel, to understand? In addition, students were encouraged to apply music terminology to their explanations. Utilizing that terminology supports their practice of music language and inspires them to communicate as a musician. In a similar way, when I teach a new piece of text, I often “tease” students with the first couple of lines from the story (“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times,” A Tale of Two Cities) or the name of the main character (“Bigger Thomas,” Native Son) or the location of the setting (“Starkfield,” Ethan Frome). I ask them to predict what they think the story is about, or to anticipate the attitude of the character or to foresee the importance of the place. That conversation helps students to imagine the theme, the characters and the setting.

Next, Ms. B distributed the sheet music and asked students to take a few minutes to
“read” it over. She asked them to sing the rhythms on counts and encouraged them to keep reading the music even if they mixed up a rhythm, but to continue working on it both visually and aurally. As a reading specialist, I encourage students to keep reading if they get stuck on a word. I remind them of various “fix it” strategies to make meaning. As an example, can the student determine meaning from the prefix, the root word or the suffix? Is the student able to understand the gist of the reading without the word?
When students finished reading, Ms. B asked them to highlight their individual line so
that it would “stick out of the musical texture as you read.” This type of close reading, or
“musical annotation” is a valuable skill in all content areas. When students begin a new piece of text, even a brief close reading supports their annotation skills. By doing a close reading, students are asking questions, making comments and deciphering unknown vocabulary. This engagement with the text helps students for the challenge of reading and making meaning of what could be an unfamiliar topic.

2F7ECCC0-891D-4DF0-AE40-86521386832BAs students read and highlighted, Ms. B prepared a video of the song being performed by
an authentic ensemble, so students could “feel” the style and the spirit of the piece. This visual is critical in making an auditory connection. By listening to the music and watching the singers’ body language, the student is hearing and seeing the relationship between the singers and the music. Similarly, I often show a video or play a recording of an author reading a portion of their short story, poem or novel. I want students to see the author’s demeanor when reading and hear the tone and inflection of the author’s voice.
Finally, after a visual and spatial warm-up, an introduction of the artist, a prediction of
the piece, a detailed close-reading with annotation, and lastly, a visual and auditory opportunity to hear the music, Ms. B’s students were ready to practice the piece themselves.

In closing, it is essential to create scaffolded reading opportunities in all classes, not just
the four “core” where one would most expect them. To support students in reading, explicit and useful strategies are necessary to make meaningful reading connections, which in turn, highlights the value of reading in every single subject. Applying those specific reading strategies in music and all classes demonstrates the value of that discipline and the ability to transfer those strategies from one content area to the next.

References
Dickens, C. (1859). A tale of two cities. London: Chapman Hall.
Wharton, E. (1860). Ethan Frome. New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons.
Wright, R. (1911). Native son. New York, Harper.

Peg Grafwallner is the author of Ready to Learn: The FRAME Model for Optimizing Student Success, available now through Solution Tree.

EB9E4BE1-B0CE-4383-9A1D-316C6DF1DB91  Ready to Learn

 

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Guest Post by Andrew Easton, @EastonA1, Personalized Learning Collaborator and Consultant, Westside Community Schools in Omaha, Nebraska

*Future DBC Inc. author on Personalized Learning, Spring 2020

Now that we are into November, it’s likely that at some point this year you’ve been asked the question, “So, do you have a pretty good group this year?” In my time in education, I’ve heard a myriad of answers to this question – some that I don’t want to repeat. Whether it’s right or wrong or not even a thing worth discussing, I do find it interesting to hear what a teacher has to say. And actually, there is one word in particular hat comes up rather consistently when this question is asked. One that on its own doesn’t completely address the question. The word “challenging.”

This year, I am redesigning our high school’s English 4 course and am teaching that class for the first time. When the teacher who had previously taught that course retired, she politely used the word “challenging” when describing to me the group of students that she typically supported in that course. She quickly followed that up with a “Good luck!” that felt more like a warning than words of encouragement.

English 4 is an appealing option for students who are simply looking to pass an English class to graduate and pick up a few helpful life hacks along the way. Many of our students have had significant struggles with learning in the past for a variety of reasons. Those reasons have made it hard for them to find consistent academic success. For these students, senior year has brought both the liberating promise of change once they reach the end of May but along with it the stinging reality that they have navigated their K-12 education to the 12 end of that spectrum and the experience has left them feeling like they have not taken much from a system that has helped some of their peers to thrive. 

Planning over the summer was, well, challenging in its own right. I knew very little about this group that wasn’t second hand knowledge. But as I perused the gradebook and academic history for some of my students prior to the start of the year, I knew one thing: I had to give these learners the opportunity to feel what accomplishment feels like. There is a certain rhythm to success that has to be found and then felt before it starts to beat and almost swell from within. I guessed then and now know that many of these students have never heard, nor much less felt that beat, and I knew that I would be working against thirteen years of baggage if I tried to convince them, initially at least, to search for this experience in an academic setting. But I had an idea.

When I find myself feeling stagnant in my own motivation, I often start a #Five4Five Challenge. The #Five4Five challenge was created by Michael Matera, author of Explore Like a Pirate, in the spring of 2018. He posed this challenge through his Twitter and YouTube account, and I was immediately intrigued by the idea. The #Five4Five Challenge asks individuals to select one “thing to do” and do that thing each day for five days straight. What you decide to do is entirely up to you, but you have to do it once a day for each of the five days to succeed. I myself had done six #Five4Five Challenges before the school year began. I had created a vlog, done anonymous acts of kindness, set workout goals, even given up Starbucks for five days straight (that one was brutal). The goal itself doesn’t matter; it’s not about the goal. It’s about intentionality and filling your day with purpose and success. It seemed like the right fit for my learners, and so in the second week of school, I issued them all a challenge.

Now, if I’m being honest, I wasn’t exactly sure how they would respond to it. Would they laugh this off? Would they be into it for a week or two and then fade away as the grind of the semester progressed? Well, I’m happy to share that as I’m writing this, we just finished our fourth week of #Five4Fives (we go two weeks on, one week off), and the experience has not only gone well but it has exceeded all my expectations.

Our implementation has been pretty simple. We created a one-sided handout that has four boxes on it, one box for each of the first four weeks of the course. Each box contains a line for the learner to write out their goal for that week, the days of the week with a checkbox next to each day, and a place for the learner to sign their name if they complete the challenge by the end of the week. 

This is not for a grade and we try to keep our daily commitment to discussing these goals to five minutes or less each class period. We don’t always open class with our #Five4Fives, but when we do, I really enjoy it. It’s captivating and powerful for class to begin with students openly sharing their passions and accomplishments. It’s been such a positive culture piece. It’s also been encouraging to watch students fail for a day and then keep going for that week. I’ve noticed too a greater sense of resilience in the students; in the first week, most would hang their head if they had to share about missing their goal the previous day, but now they confidently share their failures too. In those moments, I try to ask, “So are you going to get back on track tomorrow?” Most answer yes and at least make that goal for another day or two that week.

One month in, I’m really glad that we don’t require that the #Five4Five goals be education related. It’s funny, despite having the freedom to set any goal they wish, several students each week still choose a goal that has something to do with school. The goals that they set often speak to their values, their challenges, and desires for change; by offering them the freedom to create the goal that they want they are more willing to follow through with it. The only stipulation we have set for the goals is that they must be measurable. 

Check out how we are doing! Here’s some of the data we have collected thus far…

 

#Five4Five Challenge: Number of Students Completing a Certain Number of Goals Per Week

Completed One Goal  Completed Two Goals Completed Three Goals  Completed Four Goals Completed All Five Goals 
Week One 4 Students 5 Students 4 Students 10 Students 25 Students
Week Two 5 Students 4 Students 4 Students 8 Students 27 Students
Week Three 1 Student 2 Students 7 Students 2 Students 36 Students

 

Though I’m not sure that I needed this data to have a sense that this practice was having a positive influence on our learners, I’m very happy with the story these numbers seem to tell. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions from it.

A final piece of evidence that I would like to share comes from our weekly Flipgrid video reflections that students have gotten into the habit of recording. Every two weeks, the students create a video in which they reflect on their efforts in the course and with their #Five4Five goals. This reflection comes from a student named Luis. In week two, Luis chose to set an academic goal for himself, and I’m proud to say that Luis met his goal that week. Afterward he reflected on his experience saying, “…my goal was to do my homework for every class, and I was surprisingly successful. I picked it because junior year I was not good with homework at all and I just had so many missing assignments. And for senior year I want to be able to do all my homework and get some good grades because my grades were terrible last year. I just want to be able to see what I can do, and this goal has really helped me this week.” 

Ugh, I love that! 

So, the next time someone asks me, “Do you have a pretty good group this year?” I’m looking forward to shooting them a smirk and answering, “Yes, they are definitely… challenging.” Challenging themselves, challenging me to be a better teacher and a better person, and challenging the way I think about my responsibility to help them grow both as people and learners.

Andrew is the Host of the Westside Personalized Podcast (bit.ly/WPPodcast)

WestsidePersonalized.com

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Guest post by Deidre Roemer,  Director of Leadership and Learning West Allis, WI, @deidre_roemer

 

When I reflect on my skills as a teacher throughout my career, I can think of examples of what I did well and a million things I would have done differently.  I am teaching a class at a local university this semester and know confidently that I am a better teacher now than I was when I was in the classroom. The opportunity to see other teachers in action in my leadership role for the last several years is what has made me better.  I get to speak to educators and learners all the time about what is working well in their classrooms and what they would like to see grow. It includes spending time in many classrooms where we and others are getting it right and learners can articulate the process of their learning in order to create great things.

Professional development that is connected to a vision of our work with meaningful processing time to reflect is how we push teachers to move from single projects to true learner driven practice.  We take a lot of teachers and teams on site visits to schools in our area and across our country who are already doing the kind of work we are trying to do to see it in action. It is hard to find a large comprehensive system that is there yet, so we are often at small charters of specialty programs that are offshoots of schools.  The visits are always amazing as we are able to interact with teachers and learners and see learner driven practice, but often the most important part of the time is the meal after the visit or the long trip home where we can talk about what we saw, process, and plan for what parts we can implement within our system. The goal is not to replicate but to figure out how to ask the right reflective questions of ourselves and one another to tie what we saw to our personal passions and interests and figure out how to bring all of that together to shift the learner experience.

We also spend a lot of our time talking about how this is the kind of learning experience ALL learners should have.  It should not be reserved for some kids in special programs or special schools. The visits with the deep discussions are often the leverage point that takes an educator from trying a few things to a true shift of practice that is more inclusive.  It helps them to be more collaborative as they are often on these visits with other staff from across our district that they might not already know having a shared experience . The power in seeing some things we are already doing well and celebrating those helps us to not be overwhelmed when looking for ways to grow.  The key is to make the time, take the staff who are ready to take some bold steps, and then follow up with them multiple times throughout the year so they have support to keep going with the work.

On a recent site visit, I took a chance and messaged some of the teachers to join us off-site after the formal conference to continue our learning.  Fortunately, they were willing to take the opportunity to discuss their work with us over dinner. It was an impactful experience to listen to teachers that have been doing this work for some time engage in professional discourse about grading, telling their story and standards.  The teachers were open about their own growth over time and how our staff could take pieces of what they saw back to our schools to create a more equitable opportunities for all learners through empowerment. We went back to the site the next day with a new lens on what to look for in learner and teacher observations that we could do instead of being lost in the surface things like the physical set-up.  Things that may have looked idealistic the day before now looked possible. The modeling of professional discourse created space for our team to do the same and ask some great questions about how we can do this work and how it does not have to look the same across all our schools.  Encouraging staff to push boundaries and challenge one another’s thinking is how we look at someone else’s professional practice and find a way to make it our own.

A few things we discover each time we do a site visit became apparent:

  • This work is messy.  It takes deep dialogue on what is right for learners and how to give up control in a way that is not always natural for teachers.
  • Change is uncomfortable and unpredictable, but easier with the proper support.  People tend to say, “Change is hard.” There was a great article from the Harvard Business Review in January of 2008 that explained why that phrase becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that permits us not to try.  We have to be able to think bigger than that.
  • We need to get more comfortable with professional discourse and open discussion about where we are now and where we can go that may push our thinking.
  • Teachers have to connect their own passion to their work in schools.  When it is authentic to the teachers, it becomes authentic with the learners.
  • Our teachers need to see the work in action often and learn how to get and give productive feedback.
  • The standards are always embedded in innovative, learner driven work.  They just aren’t always owned solely by the teacher.
  • Many times, the teacher in a learner driven classroom finds joy in their work.

We have evolved our district wide professional development to hopefully reflect all of these.  Our teachers will have time in small groups to learn their standards well enough to empower learners to take ownership of mastery of those standards within cross-curricular projects.  Staff will then have the opportunity to sign up to see another teacher modeling classroom practice that is learner driven. They will be our own internal site visits. We will use structured protocols to get and give feedback at each site to ensure we are using the time for genuine collaboration as we know that is what drives teacher practice.  We can’t make more time than we have, so we use the protocols from The School Reform Initiative as a way to restructure the time and make sure it is used for purposeful feedback and collaboration.

Our teachers hosting visits that day have been invited to participate for the first round as they are already trying new things, having success with learner empowerment and finding joy in their work.  It is not expected that anything that is “perfect” or a “show”.  It is meant for one teacher to share their experience and encourage others to try new things with an open dialogue about how and what supports they will need. Our goal is that our teachers engage with one another to see what’s possible, work together to get there for every learner and find joy in the work.

 

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