EM: Craig, are we allowed to bring our own cup and teabags and have tea with you in the morning?

ME: Of course, just make sure you bring in your own bags and your own cup.  If enough people bring in lots of different kinds of tea, we can taste and compare from all over the world.  That would be cool.

EM:  I'll ask my mom.


EM:  Craig, I brought my tea and cup today.  It is apple tea.

ME:  Great!  Make a cup and drink while you work this morning.

EM:  I don't know how to make tea.

ME:  Just go over to the tea kettle in the corner and figure it out.

EM: Alright.


EM: Ahhhh, tea makes graphing so much more enjoyable.


My Inspirational Teachers

I was watching a series of lectures online for my M.Ed courses and the instructor would introduce the class to one of his Top Teachers in each lecture.  The purpose of this is not to give credit or accolades, but rather to pick out the threads of what great teaching is.  What do great teachers have in common?  Where do they differ?  Why do they effect us so dramatically?  What lasting impression do they leave on us?  Why?

This is something I would like to know more about.  So, I have started a googledoc and I would like teachers from around the world to add their stories to it.  The document is public, and there is no requirement to leave names (either your teacher or yours).  I wonder what trends will emerge from the collection?


In the meantime, I'll get the ball rolling.....
Mr. K

He taught me science and society in my last year of high school.  Mr K knew I was not strong in the sciences, but he knew I liked to ask questions and write, so he encouraged me (phoned me at home before the year started) and pestered me to take this class.  Once in the class, I found that he had no interest in following the syllabus he had created and given to us on the first day.  he would bring in newspaper articles, magazine clippings, and photocopied chapters from books.  We would read, ask questions and talk.  That’s it.  No essays, no assignments, no homework.  Just talk about what we read.  There was a final exam, but it only consisted of one question; what did you learn in this course?  It was the hardest exam I have ever written!

The thing I loved the most about Mr K is that he didn’t care about anything (in this course) except for how well we would think and engage.  He knew every kid in that class so well, and he knew the material so well, that he could engage any of us in any of the topics we discussed.  He introduced us to things that were contested, issues that science is still debating.  He made us love science, but he also helped us question it as the only way of knowing.  If I could sum up his class in one sentence, it would be “there is more to the world than just laws and energy.”

As I have recently dove into the concepts of self-organization, complexity, chaos theory and system thinking; I find myself thinking more and more of Mr K, and how I wish I could be in that class again. (Craig Dwyer, CDN in Japan)


Reading Out Loud?

Just a curiosity and a question for those elementary school teachers out there; NOTE, I am specifically talking about Upper Elementary, grades 4-6.

How much reading out loud do you do with your students?  How often do they read to you?  Is a students ability to read out loud fluently a good indication of their reading level?  Is reading out-loud a skill that should be nurtured, or is it one of those things that we teach in schools only so they can do well in school?  Is reading (in the upper elementary grades) more of a mental process than an oral one?  Is oral reading good assessment practice?

Just trying to wrap my head around a few of these questions and would love any feedback.


Me Circles

It is so interesting where ideas come from, and how a class can dramatically shift from one activity to the next.  Being fluid and organic, and accepting that ideas are built on more ideas (and being flexible enough to evolve with them) leads to a dynamic environment.  This is true in ecology, and also in the classroom.

We were working on area of a circle and the class was trying to get their heads around all the different parts of the various equations.  I tried to make it interactive earlier in the week by having them rotate pencils, where the pencil could be either the radius or the diameter.  This would lead to two very different circles.  Once we had the radius or the diameter, we could plug it in and find the area, or the circumference.  This series of lessons was created by ME, the teacher, and given to THEM, the students.  For some, they go it.  For others, it wasn't sticking.  I had to try again.

Next time, I thought I would do the same lesson, but the kids who got it would teach the kids who didn't (Aside: I realize that I sorted and classified my students into two camps, whose that get it and those that don't, and I have singled them out from the group.  That is on purpose.  As a community and a team, it is imperative that we tell each other when we are unsure of something, so those that do understand can help those that don't.  There is no shame in not understanding and asking someone who does for help.  If all work together, we all go further. End Aside)  This however, wasn't working either.  Until, one boy got down on the floor and started spinning.  I immediately got everyone involved and watching this odd display.

Everyone watched as I grabbed this student and spun him around his center point.

He is the diameter, one child said.

What would happen if he was the radius?  another asked.

As soon as I said that, the kids were off, rotating around on the floor, trying to be the radius or the diameter of a circle.  I asked them to draw a picture (or use Pages on a MacBook) to find as many values of a circle as they could and be as specific as possible.

This was a great learning experience, but it was one that I could have never planned.  If I did come up with this idea, and tell the kids to do it, would it have been the same?  Instead of coming from ME, and going to THEM; this activity evolved from THEM and stayed with THEM.

In this scenario, what was my role?  Where do I fit into this system?

I guess my question now it this; in a decentralized classroom where the ideas are evolving from the collective, what is the role of the teacher?  Are we a part of the collective?  An agent in the system?  Or do we have a bigger role to play? Perhaps, we serve as the consciousness? (This is an idea put forward by Brent Davis at the University of Calgary, you can download the article here, it is called Teacher as Consciousness of the Collective)

I don't know (and never will!).



Fermi Problems

I am sure that many educators our there use Fermi Problems in their class.  They are a great way to get kids, especially in the younger grades to revert some of the old relics of math education that need to go:

  • There is always a right answer

  • There is only one way to do something

After a lot of work and practice, my kids are starting to see that math is not all about getting the answer and doing it the same way as everybody else.  There are assumptions that are inherent in math, and estimating is a key skill.  The importance is shifted from the answer and the method, to how well you can explain and justify your answer and method.  It takes math out of the realm of numeracy, and puts in squarely in the linguistic realm.  You have to explain, using math, why you think what you think.  This also sits within a large circle of metacognitive understanding.

I would love to collect a large store of PDF Fermi problems to archive somewhere.  If you have any, please send them along to dwyerteacher@gmail.com.


Back to School

Three weeks is a long break.  It takes at least three days for heads to get back into the process.

Next up, report cards.  More on that later, once I hash out my thoughts.