Showing posts from November, 2012

Listen to the Walls

In preparation for next weeks #pypchat on learning spaces , I thought I would reflect on my walls, and see if the chat changes how I approach it.  At the start of the year, the walls are empty.  Like a blank canvas.  They are covered in butcher paper and bordered with those border packages (I never used them but a staff member recommended it, and it does look more aesthetically pleasing!).  As we learn new concepts or skills, we use marker and write it directly on the board. [caption id="attachment_1405" align="aligncenter" width="300"] A section of our math wall[/caption] For subjects like Math and Language, we keep the same paper up all year and keep adding to it.  Like a continuously growing mind-map.  It can get a little messy, but it lets us make connections, draw lines, separate concepts that are different and gel concepts that are similar   Sometimes I do it, other times we collaborate on the walls, other times a student takes it upon themselves to


Traveling through the educational blogosphere, it is impossible to not come across Understanding by Design.  I must admit, that it is not something that I have studied in depth and not something that I am that familiar with.  I will get to it, eventually. What I do know about it, I don't like.  It seems like a linear program designed to guide the learners to a pre-ordained conclusion decided on by the teacher.  It does not seem child centered, but rather planning centered.  The best unit planning template, in my eyes, is a blank piece of paper. I don't know.  Convince me otherwise.  I don't read too many criticisms of it, just praise.  I want to hear more perspectives.

Why so serious?

Math is a tool.  A way of studying and understanding the world.  The science of numbers and operations.  A logical method for making complex things simple.  A way to uncover the beauty of nature. A serious part of education that is essential for kids to master to be literate in our 21st century. Sure.  It is all those things.  But, it is also imaginative.  It doesn't have to be connected to anything.  It can just be fun.  A sense of play.  It can be fictional.  Schools tend to treat it as a non-fiction subject that is directly related to the real world, and you must master it because then you won't understand the world and if you don't understand how the world works then you will be missing a key indgredient in the recipe of life..... (why don't we say the same thing about painting?). I remember coming across a great quote in The Mathematicians Lament by Paul Lockhart (if you haven't read, please do, you will not disappointed and it's only 25 pages!) when I was

Visible Thinking; I used to think... but now I think....

Context: Studying health, nutrition and fitness; we had a Yoga PE lesson.  Most of the kids had never done Yoga before, some had, and a couple do it regularly. This is the simplest of Making Thinking Visible routines, just fill in the blanks and finish the sentence, or maybe even turn it into a paragraph (or a whole essay for older kids?).  Yet, it is one of the most powerful.  Before we started our Yoga lesson, we brainstormed words that we associated with our conception of Yoga and wrote them on the white board. Then, we followed along with the Youtube video and did a thirty minute workout. After the workout, we caught our breath, had a drink of water, a little mediation time, and then we brainstormed a new list of words that we thought about what we just experienced. Great routine.  Really put into perspective what they thought at the outset, and how it changed after the activity.  I loved that we did something physical also.  This was my first attempt to link the Visible Thinking

Food Exchange

In grade 5.6 we have been talking a lot about food recently.  Studying nutrition and health it was inevitbale.  My wife, who happens to be the Japanese teacher for my class, mentioned to a Korean student how much we love chapchae .   A couple of days later, we received a bag of noodles and instructions on how to make it, along with a couple of sets of korean chopsticks .  Being Japanese (and Canadian), we could not let a nice deed pass without recopricating, so we passed along a favorite of ours with a recipe attached, Quinoa .  Though not a Japanese dish, it is one of our families favorites. Tonight (moments ago) I received an email from the student saying that their family had just enjoyed a nice Quinoa dinner and very much enjoyed it.  This got me thinking about food, but not in the health sense that we have been looking at it in class, rather in a more global sense of connection making.  Culture and food are so intricately linked to each other that they are often confused as each o

Visible Thinking; Sentence -- Phrase -- Word

Context: Finishing up a large projec t in which the kids wrote an e-book explaining what all those words on nutrition labels mean. The basic progression of this routine is very simple, but the thinking is complex.  The book recommends this as a way to open up a discussion, but I used this as a way of winding one down.  Instead of kicking off an inquiry, we used it to help us remember what we just did. Sentence: Write a sentence that sums up your project.  This was hard, they had to stick to the bare basics and the big picture.  In other wards, the concept, whereas the research project itself was focusing more on the content.  After researching and writing about all the details, here I was, asking them what it means in one sentence.  This gave me instant assessment feedback.  I knew the kids who really knew their stuff, and I could see the ones who didn't and help them along. Phrase: One the sentence was written, this part was actually really easy!  The sentence was by far the ha

Visible Thinking: The Explanation Game

Context : We are about to start a short personal inquiry into what a diet is, and how they vary from someone who is trying to lose weight, to a power lifter who wants to pack on the muscle.  They are all diets. Name it: The first step was to give what they see a name.  Some called it dinner, but then others interjected and said that it could be lunch.  Others jumped right to meal, while some took it further to healthy meal, and even balanced meal.  This was a great discussion because on first glance it is simple, its a meal, but as you start to look more you realize that there is some kind of organization behind this meal. Explain it:  I asked the kids to go a bit deeper and explain why we are talking about it.  They made comments like, because we are studying health, and we talked about food last week.  This stage caused some struggles, they were unable to connect with this any more than because we are a doing a unit on nutrition .  Frankly, I struggled with this step as well.  I co

Content and Concepts; Key Vocabulary

Content and Concepts are autopoietic by nature; they create one another and are created by one another.  Like it or not, even if we swear to the moon that we are teaching a concept based curriculum, we still need content. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="167"] A simple auto-poietic system, replace the names in the two boxes with content and concept[/caption] Part of process of becoming functional within the concept is getting to know the content; specifically the language and jargon that a given field (subject, discipline, what have you ) use.  The word Line means something different if you are studying Maps than it does it you are studying Communication Systems.  Sifting through this language can be a difficult task, especially if you have ESL students who are still mastering the language. One way I have found that helps this is gDocs.  At the start of every unit, we create a new Key Vocabulary document that we all have access to.  Throughout

Editing Ferris Wheel

Context: We are researching what all those things on Nutrition diagrams are and creating an e-book about them using iBooks Author. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="219"] What does all this mean?[/caption] Continuing from yesterdays ideas on group writing , today we tried some group editing.  There was a two-fold purpose to this; firstly, I wanted them to read what others had written in their research projects.  This was a good way to share what others had found and learned.  Next, I wanted them to work on editing and give the book a more uniform voice. We had ten people in a group, and started by editing our own, then passed it around the circle.  Each person found small mistakes or made slight improvements.  It was amazing to read the what the kids found, and you could see different strengths and weaknesses combining to create a product that only a collective could. Some students were good at noticing the Capitalization, others were great with

The Simplest Thing

How wonderful it is to sit back and watch learning happen.  My students are working science fiction stories to go with our Unit on health and the human body.  They have to incorporate the real facts and science into a story.  We are using this to work on writing a realistic setting, how to write dialogue in our writing, and powerful words that help the reader visualize the story.  That is the explicit instruction that I lead.  However, I decided to try something different, something that I'm sure many teachers have done before, but something that I have never included in my writing instruction.  This time they are co-writing their stories with a partner. As I sit and listen I hear the items that I expecting to hear from our joint sessions; they are discussing the setting, they are examining their dialogue, and they are debating over which word is more powerful.  However, there is more happening then just the items I wanted them to discuss.  They are talking about tenses, punctuatio


I had a long list of things I was going to do over our Fall Break; blogposts, assignments, writing, planning for the next unit, etc. Instead, I ended up doing nothing. I disconnected and spent some quality time with my boy. We went on a short vacation. Watched movies. Relaxed. Went to a drumming festival. And now I feel completely re-engerized and ready for the next term. Sometimes the best thing to do is nothing at all.