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Showing posts from September, 2012

The Spark

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(Cue Music:  Sparks by The Who)

We started a letter writing project today.  The purpose is to persuade somebody to change something.  I started off by asking the kids what was bothering them?  What would they like to change?  At home?  At school?  In the community?

At first, the kids were all centered around sibling rivalry stuff and family issues.

I want my sister to stop taking my things.

I want my mom to give me more video game time.  

I want my dad to take me to Disneyland for my birthday.

The usual kid stuff.  Alright, I said, we can write a letter about those things.  You could write a letter to your sister asking her to stop hitting you.  Or, to your Dad, for a cool birthday present.  We talked about how to make a mind-map to organize our ideas and our letter.  Main topic in the middle, three reasons why, and then for each reason, two examples.  I sent them off to their tables to work.

And then.... THE SPARK!

One boy asked, in loud voice so everybody could hear, if he could write a let…

Visible Thinking; Chalk Talk

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Context: We are about to start a new unit in reading that is all about making connections to literature.

I don't think I did this right but it was a great experience!  That is one of the things I love about the Visible Thinking activities, they are so versatile and open to different interpretations.  They expand the space of what is possible, rather than delimit it.  This activity is basically a big group brainstorming about a topic or sentence.  To me, the most important aspect of this activity is threefold; time, shared space and focus.

The kids need time to process what they are doing.  That goes without saying.  Yet, in an activity like this, I found that some groups were ready for the next stage before others.  We had different groups doing different things.  I was able to tailor it to each groups needs.  Second, the shared space is key.  The piece of paper in front of them is a shared artifact that they take ownership of and use together to create ideas.  Teachers often tell s…

Teapots update...

The project is going very well.  We have used this idea to invesigate the following mathematical concepts and ideas:

surface area
perimeter
characteristics of 2D shapes
characteristics of 3D shapes
google sketchup
measurement of 2D and 3D shapes
volume of 3D shapes
3D drawing
building 3D models

And we still have to investigate....

3D perspective
3D nets
artistic design
company logos and sustainable packaging
shipping options and cost analysis
shipping routes and measuring distance on a map

It has been a fantastic way to start off the year.  We are zooming in and out of the project, working on it for a while and then stopping to fill in the blanks.  When we are zoomed out, the kids are super engaged because they know that what we are studying has a purpose and a goal; to get this box made and shipped.  They make the connections themselves and they explicitly figure out why we are doing what we do.

This weekend I bought another teapot.  We have three groups working and I decided that they all needed to s…

Reading Time

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This is something new I am trying this year.  I am trying to encourage independence, time management, and a love of reading.  Each week on Thursday morning, after our reading period in the library, the kids get 45 minutes to an hour to work on the following reading related checklist.

The first couple weeks I found were scattered and they had difficulties talking about books.  I wanted deeper conversations than, I like it, or it was really good because it was funny.  So, last week I introduced four colored boxes to talk about books.

For each interaction, Voicethread (oral self-reflection), talking with friends (oral sharing), and summary writing in journal (written reflection) I expect them to choose a box and keep their discussion limited to that one theme.  So far, it has been working and I find the conversations much deeper and focused, and the writing is much more personal with more connections.
But, by far my favorite part of this has been the do whatever you want graffiti wall.  The…

Mathematical Habits of Mind - Conjecturer

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We had a nice emergence today in class.  We were practicing the habit of pattern sniffing.  Everybody has been assigned a 3D shape and they are trying to become experts in that shape.  Today, they started to count the vertices, edges and faces.  When we got around to the cone, a disagreement arose.

How many faces does a cone have?  

Some students said 1, others said 2.  Same problem with a sphere.  How can something have no faces?  It must have one, right?  We switched courses and started to conjecture.  A conjecture is a theory that you have before it has been tested.  It is like a hunch, it hasn't been proven.  We wrote three statements on the board and each child filled out their responses.





1) I think a sphere has _ faces because....

- 1 face because I feel something, so there must be a face

- 0 faces because faces are flat

- 0 faces because it rolls, and things with faces cannot roll

- 0 because a 2D circle has a face, but a 3D circle is not made out of 2D shapes

- 1 face because ther…

Product vs Process

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I often write about the learning that happens in my class, but I rarely mention the learning that goes on in my home. My son, who is 3, continually amazes me and teaches me new things about teaching, learning, and knowing. Many of the lessons I learn from him, I am able to apply to the class, and vice versa.

Today, he colored a picture and it got me thinking about the process versus the product. Anyone who looks at this picture will think that he scribbled entire page in pink with no regard to lines or the whole picture. They would assume that this is not a thoughtful work of art with little to no cognitive thought behind it. They would be wrong.

During the process of coloring this photo, he painstakingly took his time on each component of the picture. The eyes, the windows on the train, the leaves on the trees. He narrated what he was coloring and created a story of how the pandas were learning to drive the train (well, he said it was a truck). Each piece of the whole picture …

Visible Thinking - See-Think-Wonder

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Context: We are working on a one-kid show for our unit on Self Expression.  The kids have to choose an emotion and investigate it in front of the class for 30 seconds through the use of their voice, body, and face.  To get them thinking deeply about the scene they will portray, we did a See-Think-Wonder in groups.

Silence: I had the kids look silently for about a minute and not say anything.  I did not specify what they were looking for, which I think is an important aspect of this that the authors didn't really reflect on in detail in the book.  During this time, the kids are cognitively going through all the steps that will follow.  They are thin-slicing the picture, organizing their thoughts, and getting a feel for the whole image.  I believe this happening on a sub-conscious level, hence the importance of not orienting attention to anything in particular.

I noticed that some of my kids were locked on to the image and I could see their eyes scanning and darting across the screen.…

Visible Thinking, Pt. 3

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This is a quick little chapter, just setting up the routines section, which thankfully is the bulk of the book.  Still, there are many spots to stop and think in this short chapter.

I think to myself, I have no routines for handing in homework, or lining up.  There is no job list in my class, things just get done when they need to.  We are like an egalitarian hunter/gatherer society.  Will these thinking routines take longer to become ingrained in an atmosphere like this?  Or will they flourish?  Only one way to find out.
This is not a prescriptive list of activities to do in the class.  This will require work and effort on the teachers part to learn the routines and where they fit with what lesson.  I like this.
I am thinking I might make a poster for each routine and stick them up on the thinking about thinking board on the room; turn them into a monument or part of the class brain, so anybody can access them at any time
I love the idea of the lesson folding and folding back.  From a ge…

A visual for Surface Area and Volume

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A student discovered this today.  It is a nice little visualization to see and feel the difference between Surface Area and Volume:

Make a 3d object out of multilink cubes with lots of different colors.

How many cubes did you use?  That is the Volume (6 in the diagram).

How many squares do you see on the outside?  That is the Surface Area (22 in the diagram).

Putting kids in a Box

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We had a spot of difficulty recognizing dimensions of 3D space today.  L x W x H is a simple enough concept to find mathmatically, but if we are going to be Visualizers in math class, we need to be able to picture the image in our head.  First, we started with a globe.  What size of box would you need to make to fit perfectly around this globe?



We practiced our guessing skills and constructed an imaginary box around the globe.  Then, we measured that box with our imagination and wrote our guesses on the board.  Then, we measured it and saw who was closest.  Repeat with a water bottle.  The students reflected that the water bottle was thinner, so the square at the bottom would have to smaller, and the height a little lower.



This lead to new guesses and new visualizations, and new conjectures.  We are starting to think like mathematicians and show these habits of mind.  But, we still have lots of work to do.  We need to challenge our conception of what we think math is.  It is not just ca…

What if... pt.9

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**This is part of a series of weekly questions that are meant to act as conversation starters, or thought experiments.  Discussion and debate are encouraged.  I am not taking a position, merely opening the space of possibilities through discussion.**

Visible Thinking Pt. 2

Chapter 2 - Putting Thinking at the Center of the Educational Enterprise

I like their generalization about how policy makers tend to think that by changing curriculum, teachers will teach the content and the system will improve.  This view tends to think that the what in curriculum teaching is more important than the how.  Delimits the role of the teacher and makes our job look bad.
The distinction between teaching and learning here is wonderful.  Good teachers focus on learning, while ineffetive teachers focus on teaching.  I have always said that I don't think teaching is a real thing.  It is a word we made up to fit a role.  Learning on the other hand, is what it is all about.  Maybe we should change the name of the profession from Teachers to Learning Specialists?
Much of this chapter is about what I would call Mindful Awareness (look up Randa Khattar at the University of Toronto for some fascinating work in this idea).  Paying attention to learning that is happening and then con…

Visible Thinking, Pt. 1

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I have read so much about this book and how it is applied in a classroom from others.  I have always meant to get it, but there have always been so many other things on my mind that I kept putting it off.  Well, after the persistence of a good friend, I finally broke down and bought it.  In typical reflective fashion, I will use this blog to record my thoughts and opinions as I progress through the book and start implementing some of the ideas into my class.  Today though, will just be about the first two chapters, which are kind of like the philosophical base.

Chapter 1 - Unpacking Thinking

First though before I even began, unpacking is a term that is meant to imply an expansion of thought, not a reduction, which is how I see the geometry of learning
The whole section on beyond Bloom's is wonderful.  I remember introducing Blooms to a grade 6 class in my first year of teaching and they responded with so many questions about how to move up the levels, it drove me nuts.  I don't s…

Mathematical Habits of Mind, Pt. 1

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We are well into our teapots project at the moment.  In one of our brainstorming sessions we discovered  that one of the aspects of design we will need to be well aware of is the concept of surface area and volume.  Without knowing that, we cannot design a box that will be sturdy enough.

This year in Math class, I am attempting to focus on Mathematical habits of mind.  There are countless taxonomies of mathematical thinking out there (it seems every researcher in the field has one of their own, slightly different from the rest), but I have chosen to work with one developed by Al Cuoco, Paul Goldenberg, and June Mark.  I have chosen this one not because it is superior, but just because it is easy to follow and covers a broad spectrum of thinking skills (and it contains the word Tinkerers, which I LOVE).  This will be a recurring series of reflections on how this is shaping our math environment.  It is my hope that this changes their conception of what math is, and how we do math.

[captio…

Arts in the Classroom

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I found this old post I did a while back and thought I would delve a bit deeper into this.  The following image is from Elliot Eisner and his model of Connoisseurs and Critics in an educational environment.



I love the message that this simple circle is suggesting.  It is saying that it is not just a fun way to work, but an integral part of how human beings adapt to and make sense of the world.  Art is important.  Not just to develop empathy and feeling, but for cognition.  It helps us grow more intelligent.

Part of my philosophy to the classroom is this; every student who comes into my room is an artist and how can I help them be better artists?  However, I am not just taking about the Arts with a capital A, I am talking about the art of science, the art of geography, the art of math, etc.  These all have an artistic side to them.  Is the type of thinking that a scientist does less creative than the type of thinking a painter does?  How about a mathematician versus a film maker?  Or a p…

The Case of the Missing Corn

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I came into school, as I always do on a Monday morning, filled with an odd mixture of tiredness and excitement.  Outside of my classroom window, I spotted the class garden.  Horror!  Shock!  Despair!  The class corn was gone.  All of it.  Destroyed.  Knocked down.  Pulverized.



It must have been the rain we got over the weekend.  It was a torrential downpour.  But wait?  Why were those flimsy pea plants still standing?  And the tomatoes are fine?  I went closer to investigate and I saw it.  Bite marks on a cob of corn.  An animal is responsible for this.  But who?

The kids started to slowly trickle in from the buses.  A boy was the first to notice.  He noticed the signs that foul play was involved, but he couldn't name the guilty party.  Like a pack of hound dogs on a hunt in the woods, he gathered friends and they began to investigate and sniff out clues.  Soon, the bell rang and class was about to start.

Once inside, before our morning journal writing, I told the class about the fou…