Dialectical Thinking; The Wright Way

I read The Wright Brothers: The Remarkable Story of the Aviation Pioneers Who Changed the World not long ago (last year about this time) on the recommendation of a parent.  We were studying forces and motion and he (a pilot) gave me the book to get a better sense for the science behind flying.  I found the book fascinating, but not because of the science of flight (which, granted, was very interesting!).  Instead, I was amazed at how the brothers developed their ideas.  I was enthralled by their thought process, called the Wright Way, or I'm right, you're wrong.

Being very passionate people, they would argue in a very passionate tone.  That is a nice way of saying they yelled at each other.  Then, they did something amazing.  They would switch sides and have another passionate argument from the others perspective.  The debate would continue, and the yelling would soldier on.  This method forced each one of them to defend what they might not otherwise have considered, and led them to new angles, perspectives, discoveries, and ways of knowing or thinking.

I wanted to use this method to help us understand some deep questions about light and sound.  It ended up being a great Tuning In activity for the unit.

Alone with my thoughts
We started with some quiet meditation.  Alone.  Sitting in a quiet place with only your thoughts.  Some chose to sit on tables, others cross-legged on the floor in the classic Lotus position, while others spread out on the floor in a comfortable nap like position.  The class was divided into two, with half contemplating the tree problem, and half thinking about the ball problem.  After some time, we each jotted down our initial notes into our notebooks.  Most students were already using dialectical thinking in their notes.  They jotted down ideas for both yes, and no.  My class loves to meditate.  We have been practicing this since the beginning of the year, and learning to listen to the world around us, to zone out certain sounds and thoughts and focus on what is prescient in our current state.

I'm right, you're wrong!
Next, we shared our feelings and meditations with the larger group.  We found that we were pretty divided, with a portion saying yes, another portion saying no, and some even suggesting that both were correct.  We got into a dyad with somebody who had a different opinion from us, and argued our case (respectfully, though that is not as easy as it sounds with kids, or adults for that matter).  Then, I asked them to switch sides and have the same debate from the other side, all the while jotting notes about any important points they discussed.  This is the Wright Way.  On further reflection, I realized this may be a good Visible Thinking routine.  I am started to think like VT and not even realize it until afterwards!

Coming Together
Finally, we sat down with our partner and created a poster that showed how both theories may be correct.  We focused on drawing good diagrams and labeling them clearly.  We also learned a new word, therefore, and tried to use it in our scientific explanations.

Tuning In
This was a perfect tuning in exercise.  I was able to find out what they know about Light and Sound, what some of their misconceptions are, and where we need to go next to get a fuller picture.  Before this unit started, I asked my Twitter PLN for good provocations for Light and Sound.  They responded with some amazing ideas.  Fireworks, golf swings, jet engines, blindfolds and earmuffs, etc.  I will possibly be using many of these ideas throughout the rest of the unit.  However, there was something about this that felt better for tuning in than big explosions or outside the box activities.  Sometimes the best way to Tune in, is too quietly sit and think.

A Thought About Skills
Again, I was able to slow down and have this drawn out.  It allowed for much deeper thinking, and it also allowed me to hit some skills that I really hadn't planned on hitting.  It made me think about teaching specific skills (scientific diagrams for example).  I find difficulty in planning what skills to teach in advance, because I have no idea of their level of proficiency.  Many a time I have planned to teach a specific skill only to find out that they were already quite good at it.  Other times I have assumed that a skill was in place only to find out that it was not.  

This has me thinking about how I plan to teach skills in the future.  Do I make it explicit in the planning process, or do I let it emerge out of the activity/project?  I have been using a metaphor all year with my kids; Zoom In and Zoom Out.  I use this to orient attention to the fact that we are leaving our Inquiry for a moment to look at bigger issues (or smaller issues), and to focus on specific skills to help us in our inquiry.  For example, when we were making our boxes during the teapot project, we zoomed out to make 3D shapes out of marshmallows and toothpicks.  This was unrelated to the teapot, but the skills we learned in it helped us to make our boxes.

I wonder, how do you plan for specific skills?  Is it planned up front and made explicit?  Do you go with the ebb and flow?


Is Multiplication repeated addition?

I have been thinking about the divide between High School math and Elementary School math.  Teaching the upper years of Elementary school, I sit in the middle.  I see the kids leave my classroom after experiencing some very hands on math with inquiry projects, and then go onto math that is more abstract and distanced from from their "life".  I don't blame the teachers (honestly, I don't even know which way is better), it is more of a systemic problem than it is a local one.  Our educational institutions values pure mathematics over applied mathematics.

I have also been thinking about the things that we do in Elementary school that mess up thinking when they get to this level.  We give kids these metaphors (or visuals) to help them understand concepts and to master them at the level we teach them.  One such example is; multiplication is repeated addition.

We have all done it and said it.

4 x 3 is the same as 4 + 4 + 4 or even 3 + 3 + 3 + 3
4 x 3 is the same as 4 plus itself 3 times
4 x 3 is the same as 3 plus itself 4

Multiplication is easy, it is just repeated addition!  The just in that sentence, and I am guilty of it, implies that it is so simple and that is can be broken down into this way of viewing all the time.  The implication is this; if you follow this way of knowing multiplication, you will be fine and you will always have something to fall back on.  It is conceptual understanding.

However, the problem is that multiplication is not always repeated addition.  As students get higher up in math, the nature of it changes, and these metaphors expand.

π x 1/4 is the same as π plus itself 1/4 times...... what a second, does that make sense?

How about this one: division is the inverse of multiplication.

3 x 4 = 12
12 ÷ 3 = 4
12 ÷ 4 = 3

So if we apply the same logic (and this is what kids do then they learn these rules, metaphors, axioms, images, etc.) we could say that:

π x 1/4 = (x)

which is the inverse of:

x ÷ π = 1/4
x ÷ 1/4 = π

I'm not an expert in math, but something about that does not make sense to me....

I have no idea how we can get around this as elementary educators.  I do know that this complexification of metaphors is a big problem.  I would guess (as this is not based on research) that this is one of the major reasons that kids drop out of math around grade 9.  The metaphors all get messed up, and the language they thought they knew, starts to change.

Perhaps, it is best to keep our definitions in Elementary school more open, to have kids understand that these ideas will change, and they will have to change with them.  Of course, that goes against the view of mathematics as a static and knowable language.

Math can't change, it is Math!  It is always true, and always right!

I question whether or not that is true.  I mean, Western mathematics used to reject the concept of zero, so obviously, it changes as our knowledge and ideas evolve.

Here is a question for you; does mathematics exist in the real world, and humans are just discovering it?  Or is math a human creation?  How you answer this question says a lot....

Just thinking... please correct any of my misconceptions....

Sorry for the rambling nature of this post, these ideas are still raw in my mind....


10 Pictures

I have been working on this blog post slowly as it happens.  The following took place over two weeks, but the reflections each happened immediately after the activity/lesson.

My class are motivated self learners, but not all of them are able to just jump to it and dive in.  They need scaffolding.  The idea for a project is not enough, there needs to be a roughly cut path to the goal.  I have been trying hard to help my students with that path, while being open to new emergent possibilities as they arise.  It is a hard balance, and it does not work every time, for every student.  Some students feel more comfortable with the scaffolding in place, and they enjoy me providing the step by step process.  Others feel suffocated and lose interest.  They want to be let free and to explore it their own way.  I have to make sure I provide a bit of both.

This project came together as a way to tie up our learning at the end of our current unit.  I wanted the students to give a presentation to the class about one geographical region of Japan, and what makes it unique.  Their enabling constraint was that it had to be done in Ten Pictures with no words.  They were working in groups of three.  Each group chose a different region.  We then went through the following stages of scaffolding. 
It is important to note that these stages were adapted and created as we went.  During the journey, I was able to make a judgement about what support they needed and then I offered it.  I do not advocate using this as a road map to follow, merely as reflection of the journey we have taken.

What makes the different regions of Japan unique? 

The first step was a simple brainstorming session.  I had them get together and talk about what they knew about their region and to pool their combined knowledge into a joint space.  Some groups did this by writing random notes all over a piece of paper, others made lists, others organized their data into topics.  We spent a bit of time after we finished trying to make our brainstorming more organized to help us develop our ideas more.  As a a group, we decided on a grid with the subheadings Economics, Food, Culture, People, Nature, and Weather.  In the boxes, we wrote what you knew, and what we didn't know about each.

After the initial brainstorming, we found a lot of blanks in our organizer.  Instead of getting out the computers asking Google-Sensei, we decided to see if we could get more information from the class.  We tried this strategy, which is inspired by socratic circles.  The group that is trying to figure out sits in the middle of the circle and listens, while the members outside the circle has a discussion about the topic.  They share what they know, or what they think they know, while the listening group takes notes.

This was a very fruitful activity.  Sometimes the kids were able to just talk about what they know naturally.  Others times I had to probe and lead the discussion.  It depended on the group dynamics of who was inside the circle and who was outside.  Other times I was orienting the attention of the people in the circle, 'did you hear that?  I think that is an important point.'  It was interesting to see where the kids were recalling their knowledge from.  TV shows.  Manga.  Video games.  Movies.  Those cultural tools that were the richest source of information.

This stage took some pre-planning on my part.  I organized for people from each region to sit down and chat with my kids.  I gave no real instructions, only that they should have a conversation.  I wish I could have been present to listen in on what they were talking about, but I hada little difficulty securing a person from Shikoku, so the night before I research the region and did my best as expert.  

The kids enjoyed this step very much.  We had people from the school community in that they usually have no reason to speak to (mothers of kindergarden students).  The conversations were really interesting.  People laughed.  They drank tea.  They did research.  They got tons of information and were able to fill up most of their organizers.  I had originally decided that the next step would to go onto Google and compare what they people said to what Google said, and to fill in the final blanks.  However, they got so much information from the first three stages that we skipped it, and instead did some thinking...

I was trying to get the kids to think critically about the use of technology and the human element.  For this we had a classroom discussion, and I wrote the main parts on the board.  I didn't really contribute much, except to ask for clarification or help with word selection.  Needless to say, even grade 5 and 6 students have very strong opinions of this topic!  Yet, they really surprised me.  They were able to hold both views in their head at the same time, seeing the pros and cons of each.  Hopefully, this critical thinking of technology is something they continue into their futures.  I love technology, and I think it is so important for schools to be up to date, but schools sometimes glorify it, and not look at what is lost by using technology.  

Here are the notes from our class discussion:

Google Vs. People
  • People know because they have experience
  • Google has more information
  • We don't know what is true online
  • People who write for wikipedia are experts and know a lot about the topic
  • Difficult to tell what websites have good info and bad info
  • People know only about their small region, while Google can tell you about the bigger picture
  • Humans memories are not always reliable
  • People are better for smaller regions and ideas (local vs global)

The point here was to make them think about what they would search for.  I didn't want them going online and just searching for general pictures.  I wanted them searching for specific pictures.  For example, one group decided that they wanted to show that Tokyo is very hot in the summer.  For this, they decided on a picture of a person fanning themselves with an uchiwa (Japanese fan).  To pull back the lens, what they are doing here is:

Recognizing what the main point (big idea) is ------ finding an image that represents that main point

Once they had thought hard about their ten pictures, I asked them to put them into an order that makes sense.  We talked about the word flow, and making connections.  What is the connection between the person fanning themselves with an uchiwa, and a birds eye view of Tokyo?  Does it make sense for the audience to go from one image to the next?  

For this I had them re-list their ten pictures and then present to the class the order they chose and why they chose that order.  It was a good activity, as they were presenting a list of ten pictures that they hadn't actually found yet!  It was up to the audience to imagine what the pictures would look like.  On several occasions, kids found that their phrase for their picture was weak, and this was a chance to make the appropriate changes.  Kind of like a test run for the real presentation.  I didn't antcipate that happening.

Finally we got onto the computers to look for our images.  Before we started though we had to talk about a couple of important details.  First, I wanted them to look for pictures that were beautiful, or artistic.  Art is a subjective experience, so this was hard.  We made a general list of what a beautiful photo looks like.  It was interesting, they had a lot of trouble explaining it, but they know the difference when they see it.  We spoke about how that feeling was important, and they needed to go with their gut.

Second, we had to have an important conversation about searching for images on the internet, copy right, and creative commons credit.

I will admit that I am not great with this.  All the photos I use on this blog are my own, so I rarely take pictures off the internet.  I used to, but I am trying to be more aware of issues around CC.  Someone on twitter (I can't remember when and where or who) posted a list of CC image searching engines, so I stuck them all in one place on our class wiki so the kids could use them.  We spoke about how we need to give credit to people who create something, and how it would make them feel is somebody used their stuff without asking (funnily enough, many of them said they wouldn't care if somebody took their stuff and used it).  We spoke briefly about how we should give credit, agreed on a format for crediting images, and then they got it.   

The entire searching process took about forty five minutes.  My kids are very comfortable with google presentations (and most other google apps), so this was easy.  The amazing thing was how well the lists worked.  They had to adapt a lot their phrases, but they got everything they were looking for.  Their lists worked.

After we had collected the images, we started to plan for the presentation.  Using Google Presentation, it is easy to add notes, and each member of the group can do it at the same time.  We were able to write, edit and give feedback without ever having to stand up.  For me, the amazing thing about this stage was not something that I had planned, but how these kids communicated with each other.

The group members were all sitting down next to each other, so they could communicate with their voices if they need be.  They were all also in the same document, so they could go to a partners slides and help write something.  But something else was happening.  They were using the chat window on the side of google presentations to send each other links.  The multiple layers of communication and how seamlessly they flowed back and forth between them was amazing.  Granted, we use computers (and usually some form of google app) everyday, so these kids have had a lot of time to practice these skills.  Still, it amazes me how fast they make these digital spaces their own.

(On a side note, they also go into the chat option in their gMail inbox and have chats that are completely unrelated to anything, just for fun, you know.  I usually let this slide as long as they are working and engaged....)

The kids also taught me a lot about some neat little things I didn't know about gPresentation.  For instance, you can make the notes window bigger.  It also drove me nuts that there was this tiny little window for notes.  I had no idea the size could be adjusted until one boy figured it and shared it with the class.

As for the notes themselves, it has hard for them to not resort to narration for everything they wanted to say.  They are more comfortable reading their prose that looking at notes and speaking from knowledge.  However, that was kind of the point of doing it, so we persisted.  For some students it was comfortable, but for my EAL students, they needed to write it out, and then make the notes.  This helped them to see what they wanted to say.

Some of them were still resorting to simply explaining the picture, rather than what the picture represented, though I was pleased to see that if was only a few.  We were using the pictures to talk about the larger themes.  I did some editing and some brainstorming and helped orient attention to the larger themes at play, then we had time to practice before the big day!

Before we presented a gave a very basic rubric (above) to the presenters, and the audience.  The audience would assess each presenter on each of these speaking qualities.  We agreed on a five point scale.  After the presentation, each speaker would reflect on the scores given to them.  I wanted to keep it simple.  In this presentation, the speaker would be standing behind the audience, so body language would not matter.  I wanted the focus to be explicitly on the voice of the presenter.  The students were focusing on voice in their assessment, and I was focusing on their use of notes.  This was made explicitly clear to everybody, and my feedback (during one-on-one conferences) in the end was about these factors.

The presentations went really well.  I had some kids who were just reading their notes word for word and not expanding with personal narrative, and I had some who didn't even look at their notes.  I was struck by a cultural difference.  My Asian students were reading, and the rest were trying to ad lib (not 100%, but overwhelmingly so).  In Asia, presentations are presented in a very monotone pace, with the presenter reading everything is a smooth voice. That precision with the written word is valued.  In other cultures, ad libbing or speaking from the heart is valued.  Interesting to keep in mind when assessing something like this.

Last, but not least.  The kids had to share their presentations with the whole school by creating a display in the hallway.  I gave them complete control.  I didn't even go out into the hall to check on their progress.  They love it when I do this, and they are usually so proud to show me the final results (though I admit I was curious so I peaked once or twice...)

What I learned

1) Slow down.  A good idea for a project is only the first step.  Breaking it down and getting as much learning as possible is much better than doing many projects.  

2) Pay Attention.  Listen to the students and how they are reacting to the lessons.  Change things.  Create new ideas.  Don't be afraid to take it in a different direction.  Kids give great ideas, its what they do best.  Listen to those ideas and adapt to them.  When a kid suggests something and then you do it, they feel so empowered.

3) Trust the Kids.  They will make it great, you worry about the thinking.

4) Reflect as you go.  Coming onto this draft blog post almost everyday for the last two weeks has been a great way for me to reflect on what we have done.  Several times it was during the process of reflecting on what happened, that I came up with ideas of what would happen next.  Now I am thinking two things; 1) I should do this for an entire unit, blogging step by step what we do and documenting the entire ride, and 2) how can I get the kids to do this without it being over-bearing and oppressive?

The Tale of Despereaux

I love this book.  By far one of the greatest read aloud books for a class.  Any age.  Simply stunning.  DiCamillio is the best children's author alive today.

They were so emotionally invested in this story.  So attached to the characters.  A few of them were wiping back tears at various points, tilting their heads to hide their emotions, but feeling them all the same.  They were not tears of sadness, but tears of happiness.

As a group, we tracked all the characters to keep it organized.  We plotted out the plot so we can see how the author used time as a literary device.  We spoke and wondered about what would happen.  We made inferences.  We were completely absorbed in the book.

The teacherly thing for me to do now would be to get them to write and reflect, extend the stories, write a letter to the author, draw pictures, write a review, etc.  But, I'm not going to.  I'm just going to let it sit there.  I'm going to walk away.  Let it be just what it is.  A great story that touched their hearts.

"Just so," says the threadmaster Hovis, smiling, "just so."
And, reader, it is just so.
Isn't it?


Book Review: Restorative Justice Pocketbook

Restorative Justice

An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind - Gandhi

This is a very simple overview to the practice of restorative justice, geared towards school teachers in a school setting.  RJ is growing around the world as many countries are taking this as an alternative approach to punitive justice.  I was first introduced to this during a workshop on First Nations ways of building and sustaining communities while at OISE.  It was fascinating to see how it was used in small communities, and it was something that makes so much sense for teachers.  It also something that many teachers around the world already do, possibly without even knowing that is what they are doing.  In my opinion, it just makes sense, and though it may take a lot more time, it is well worth the investment.  I don't have a great deal of issues of discipline with my class (being engaged and having fun is the best classroom management technique, in my opinion), but when I do see a wrong-doing done, I try to follow this philosophy.

Restorative Justice 
- viewing crime/wrongdoing through a 'relational' lens - understanding that harm has been done to people and relationships
- creating a space for respectful dialogue
- empowers the victim and gives them a voice
- understanding what when such harm is done, it creates obligations and liabilities
- focus on repairing the harm and making things right WITH the victim
- constructive use of authority

Punitive Justice
- coming down hard on the wrongdoer and applying a penalty of a sanction
- punishment is done TO other people
- impose high levels of limit setting
- little or no support is provided to either party, and their input is not considered
- top down, authoritarian approach

RJ spends a lot of time focusing on the emotional needs of all parties involved.  It also recognizes that when you (the teacher) step into the role of disciplinary, that you are now part of the situation.  Your emotional needs also matter.  When you (acting as an agent of the larger learning community, the school) get involved in a disciplinary issue, it sends an implicit message to the entire school community.  It is a matter of what the school values.  If the punishment is heavy from the top, it sends the message that the adults are the final word, and that the voice of the students doesn't matter (punitive).  When the response comes as an open dialogue, it sends the message that this is a space where we can manage our issues in an open and transparent way (restorative).

The authors offer a six step process.

Six Stages of RJ chats

1) Engagement - It is about problem solving and not blame.  This is a tough paradigm shift to get over, and it is important that the parties involved understand that.  Before you even begin speaking, there needs to be an understanding that everybody is going to work together to solve this problem.

2) Reflection - This is all about encouraging thoughtfulness and empathy.  These are values that are supported by many character education systems (IB included).  The main point here is to allow both parties to explain themselves, and to get a whole picture of what happened and to allow the victim a chance to hear why they were on the opposite side of a hurtful action.  The author of the book suggests avoiding why questions (why did you do that?) and instead focusing on the thinking behind the action (what were you expecting would happen? what made you decided to do that?).  At this point it would also be a good strategy to find our who else has been affected by the incident.  What third parties have may been wronged here as well?  It is important to focus on the questions, and not lecture and answer the questions for the student.  They need to think about it, and if they don't, it nullifies the entire process.

3) Understanding the Harm/Impact - Now, it is the victims turn to respond. Until now, they have been quiet.  This is an invitation to get the true feelings of how the situation affected them.  I find it really interesting that the author also suggests that the teachers express how it makes them feel, and how students actions can affect a learning environment. Making this explicit will help both parties see the broader side of their actions.

4) Acknowledgement - After the victim shares their feelings, it is time to ask the accused (?) to go reflect on what was said.  Again, this is part of the empathy building.  Understanding how others feel as a result of your actions.  Ideally, one is looking for an apology, but not a canned apology to get it over with.  Hopefully they have something more substantial to add than just a simple sorry that can mean nothing.  As the author states, "don't make assumptions about the students knowing how to formulate a genuine apology.  Apologizing is an advanced social skill that is both a science and art form."  This is important.  Apologizing is not something that comes naturally (especially to ten year olds), and has to be carefully approached.  How?  I have no idea.  I wish the author had gone into more detail on this, because it is a really interesting point, one that holds a lot of truth but I just cannot wrap my head around.

5) Agreement - Here, we co-construct (all three parties, victim, accused and teacher) a plan to make things better.  It is important that we come up with a plan that all parties agree on.  Again, this goes back to the paradigm shift from #1.  The teachers role is to facilitate  not to offer ideas.  The two parties should be the ones who are heavily invested at this point to making this come to a fair and amiable conclusion.

6) Follow-Up - I imagine that this is often the stage that gets ignored due to the busy nature of schools, but it really should be the most important.  If the parties agree to some kind of terms, we need to check back and see if those terms have been met, or if those terms felt fair to both sides (or even if the terms were completed!).  It is a learning process.  If they decided on terms that were not fair, they should acknowledge that and learn from that mistake.  It is also a good time to reflect on how we have changed as people as a result of the incident.  What did we learn from this?  What will we do differently in the future?

This is obviously good for little incidents on the playground or in class, but what about big events, serious issues?  Well it follows the same progression as above, but the formality of the situation is increased.  Instead of being between two students a teacher, it might be between parents (all parties) or communities.  It gets more serious as more people are affected, and the overall tone of situation is increased.  Can you imagine an entire circle sitting around discussing a violent crime, with the victim, accused and entire community involved?  I have seen it (recorded, not live) and it is tense, but powerful.  This is more along the lines of what First Nations people call Circle Justice.  For an amazing look at this, I love the book Touching Spirit Bear.  Astounding.

Simply put, the community is now responsible for the Justice, and the community decides what the punishment will be.  This is in start contrast to the punitive approach, where the decision is made by one person, and the sanctions are usually pre-determined.  This is negotiated, personalized, and emergent.

There are some fascinating books out there on the history of social justice, and how it is used in Indigenous cultures.  It is such as interesting topic, and so counter-intuitive to our modern system of justice.  As a brief and simple introduction, this is a nice little book.


Report Cards

This is report card season.

My feelings are summed up by the picture below.

End of post.



3 Steps and a Flag, VT and Questions

Context: Introducing a color question grid to encourage deeper questions

This is a routine I made up.  I was thinking about how I could introduce the question grid above, and my mind naturally moved to VT.   I wanted them to discover how it could be used on there own, and then share the different ways with each other.  I decided to have them start with the very basic, and then go up and get into more complex ideas.  This was a very good lesson, one that the children and I enjoyed very much, and one in which we learned a great deal about the different types of questions.

1. What do you see?  Describe how it looks.

This was a simple beginning, but it is still hard for my kids to describe things without interpreting.  The talked about how this is a grid, how it has different colors on it, and how the W5 and How are listed down one side.  Then, they started jumping ahead instead of looking carefully.  They missed important points like the type of words that were along the horizontal axis and where the colors change.  Still, they are getting much better at noticing and explaining what they see.  Still a bit of interpretation going on, but they are getting used to it.

2. What is it's purpose?  Write a sentence.

I gave the example of a ruler.  The kids immediatly said that a ruler is for measuring and making straight lines.  We put it together into a full sentence; the purpose of a ruler is to measure things and help you make lines.  Now, apply that same process to this grid.  They came up with some good ideas, after the negotiated meaning with their group members.  I tried to push them to consider the words they were using carefully.  I asked one group is making questions was the best phrase.  They discussed and settled on learning how to ask questions instead.  Words matter.
  • The purpose of this thing is for learning how to ask questions and how to make questions
  • The purpose of this is to organize ideas and to help make questions
  • The purpose is to help construct how to make make questions

3. How is it used?  Explain the process.

This is where they got into the details of the thing.  I steered the conversation towards the colors, and what the difference between these types of questions is.  They wrote words that helped them right on the paper and into the boxes.  Then, we shared our findings and they wrote all the other groups findings on theirs as well.  This lead to a great discussion on when to ask different types of questions.  I encouraged them in their groups to try and put this to use, and by asking each other questions from the book we are reading, The Tale of Despereaux.  

At the end of the day, after this routine had completed and we had packed up our backpacks, I read them a couple of chapters of A Tale of Despereaux (which is the 2nd GREATEST book to read aloud to a class, behind The End of the Beginning by Avi).  Somebody asked a question, and another student commented that that question was an orange question, so you would have to make an inference to answer it.  I hope they refer to this routinely, not only just during reading.  In the future, I need to introduce this type of chart much earlier in the year.  

4. Give it a name

I don't know what this is called except for color coded question grid.  I was hoping at this stage that somebody would come up with something funny and profound that everybody could agree with, and then the collective would decide that this thing had a new name!  But, it didn't happen.  They came up with some great ideas, but nobody really rose to the top.  

So, for the time being, it has no name.  

The house on the Mountain

S: Instead of using a calculator, can I total these numbers by hand?

T: sure, if you want to. But let me ask you something. If you were building a house on the top of a mountain, how would you get the materials up to the building site?

S: A truck.

S2: A helicopter!

T: You wouldn't carry it. Would you?

S: No (mocking laughter)

T: Oh, so you would use a tool to make your life easier. Isn't that what a calculator is?

S: I guess so.  I'm still doing it by hand, calculators are cheating.

(note: S eventually gave up and used a calculator)

If you want to carry the bricks up the mountain, go ahead. Me, I'm using the most efficient tool for the job.  Students have been trained to think that using a calculator is cheating.  Even in grade 5, that attitude survives.  Why?  Is this something we need to fix?  Or is there some truth to what the student is saying?  My gut tells me no, but I want to understand as they do.....


Book Review: Inventions of Teaching - A Genealogy

Disclaimer: I am student of the author studying for an M.Ed at the University of Calgary

Inventions of teaching
By Brent Davis
If you like books on education to be filled with practical links to the classroom that will help your instruction and make you a better teacher, this is not the book for you.  While there are some practical aspects in the content, it is not a book that will tell you what to do.  People might call it philosophical   However, this is misleading in a way.  Some may say that their is a divide between philosophy and practice, but as I see it, they are one and the same.  You cannot have philosophy without practice, and you cannot have practice without philosophy.  I think this in one of the strongest messages of the book, how historically the philosophies of thought (Western thought, as that is the central subject of the book) have developed alongside the conceptions of teaching, learning, and knowing.  There is a flow, and Davis does a wonderful job of capturing it, between philosophy and practice.  Tracing thought from ancient Greece into current day complexity and network theory it spans the history of human thought (thought not is a great deal of depth, as it sits at only 200 pages).

The book is very fractal in nature, and can be read in a linear progression from the first page to the end, or it can be experienced in different directions.  At the end of each section, Davis gives recommendations on where to go next, depending on the shape you want your lived experience of the book to take place.

It starts with central questions about the nature of the universe, and how humans have tried to understand the world through differing viewpoints about how we experience the world.  Davis then begins to examine the metaphors, language, history, and practice of education (among others ideas) associated with each.  It branches off into two directions; the physical and the metaphysical.  Each branch of the tree, ends with a conception (or as the title suggests, an invention?) of what teaching and education is/was.  Before it gets to the end, it goes through several phases.  The first is the knowing part, or what the source of the knowledge is.  Next, is the learning part, or how we come to know.  Finally, we end with the teaching section, and in this area of the circle is where education lives.

The interplay and nested nature of knowing, learning, and teaching is fascinating.  What does it mean to say that teaching is facilitating?  What is the historical and philosophical base of that metaphor?  For me, the journey up these three spheres was the most illuminating part of the book.  It was fascinating to see how ideas in education can be traced back to these (sometimes) old philosophical questions of the nature of the universe.  To me the message was this; your personal philosophy matters, and what you think of knowledge, affects what you think of learning, which affects what you think about teaching.  It goes the other way as well, as ones conceptions of teaching will affect how they view learning which will suggest that how they view knowing.  Although from the overview below, it appears that each branch is a distinct from the other pieces, Davis takes care to to point out to the reader that these are not separated with a slash (Gnosis/Episteme), which separates the two and puts them into a dichotomous type relationship, but rather they are separated with a V (Gnosis V Episteme) which suggests that a bifurcation has happened.  The difference may appear to be small, but it is important to remember that as philosophies of knowing, learning and teaching evolved and changed, many of the basic assumptions from the bottom of the tree remain at the top.

Here is a brief overview of the fractal tree of the book.  If this is something that you enjoy, I encourage you to check it out.  If you are into the history of education and the philosophy of thought, this is an absolutely fascinating read.  It gives a different perspective on why education is viewed the way it is, and why we do some of the things that we do (or why we maybe we shouldn't do them).

At the least, it will get you thinking about this; What is your conception of teaching?  And what are the explicit and implicit metaphors and affordances associated with it?


Taking the PYP Forward - Quality not Bureaucracy

As a final chapter in this book, it was a good overview of how schools should approach their learning environments, but it was also anti-climatic.  Part of me abhors the use of capitalist and business ideas or models in education, but another part of me sees their value.  We live in a capitalist society, with capitalist values (whether we like it or not).  Just because something is a business model, doesn't mean it has to be focused solely on the profit.  It is a tough metaphor to sell (haha!) to education because the profit of a school is not as easily measured as the profit of a corporate entity.  Education is complex.  It is alive.  It is not a product.  It is a process.  As Dewey has famously said, "education is not preparation for life, it is life".

As for the thesis of not relying on the data driven world to guide education, yes, but that is not new.  It is frustrating to go back and read books or articles from 30-50 years ago (Friere comes to mind) and to see that we are still having the same discussions regarding testing and standardization and curriculum.  Not much has changed.  Many schools still run as top-down institutions  and curriculum is set up as a top-down artifact.

To me, from a complexivist perspective, a system that is top down is not sustainable.  It will not foster creativity, which will make adaptation to change slower or un-responsive.  A more apt systems metaphor is the bottom up approach.  The bottom, in educational terms, would be the classrooms.  If we allow the creativity and the innovation to come from the bottom and move up to change the structures that hold it together, we may get a more emergent form of education that is better able to meet the needs of this changing world.  To me (and I am biased, but aren't we all?) an understanding of systems thinking and complex systems would be a prerequisite for any bureaucrat or administrator in a school environment.

don't think, feel

Taking the PYP Forward - What will characterize international education in public schools?

This chapter was hard to relate to.  The majority of my teaching career has been in international schools, and my pre-service teaching was in a city that is very multi-cultural, even more so than the international schools I have worked at.  I do have a great deal of experience in Japanese schools, which one could certainly categorize as not very international.

I do see the internet as playing a huge role in international education.  The world online is a much different place from the borders of a school-yard, and it can open up means of communication and inquiry that would normally be closed to many of our students.  Last year, my class had pen pals in PEI Canada, Skype meetings with a school in Australia, and a joint wiki with a school in Toronto.  If fostered properly, and I am not sure if I did that, these relationships could be very beneficial to students in discovering more about other cultures.

The most striking thing about this article however, is the socio-economic issues of such an approach to pedagogy.  Internationalism is a fantastic goal, but for a public school that can barely afford new chairs, let alone 1:1 laptops or web-cameras, this complicates things.  They have different baskets with different items in them.  Teaching the rich to be international makes perfect sense, they can afford it.  They can visit new restaurants, go to foreign countries, and have access to books and resources that can pique their curiosity.  It is a different world from an inner city school where putting food on the table is the major concern from month to month.  It changes the way education is viewed by the community, and it provides a different approach to teaching.  I always wonder at the difference, and how we can help our kids to not only be more international, but more aware if the privileged that they have.  How can you apply that privilege to make the world a better place?

Basket of nothing


Taking the PYP Forward - Third Culture Kids and the PYP

This was a short one that spent the bulk of the text defining what those loaded terms actually mean.  What is culture to a grade 4 student?  What does it mean to live in a third culture?  It was very interesting, and is an important part of life in international schools.  For me however, I cannot read this without thinking and applying it to my own son.

He is now 3, soon to be 4.  He was born in Japan, and aside from a year in Toronto as an infant, he has lived here his whole life.  Next year he will officially start his formal education in Germany.  I am of Canadian heritage, though I have been living in Japan for so long I don't really know what that means anymore.  My wife is Japanese, but very non-traditional.  We speak two languages at home, English and Japanese.  We do not a have a TV, nor will we probably even own one again.  He is a textbook example of a TCK.

I wonder at how many of the missed learning customs he will not take part in.  Japanese schools are incredibly safe and provide a great environment for their kids (IMO), but a strong part of the system is training young children to be Japanese, to live in Japanese society, to think like a Japanese person, and to fit into the strong collectivist culture that exists here.  Canadian schools on the other hand are about individuality and expressing yourself.  The incredible multi-racial and multi-cultural make up of Canada (at least in the large cities) make it more like an international school.  However, it is a very top down system, with detailed curriculum and set objectives.  It does not value the things we value in education; curiosity, imagination, and creativity.

Being a third culture family seems like a good fit for us as a family.  Of course, we have no idea what we are getting ourselves into, but we are going to enjoy the ride.

The world on my table
Is the world small or large?

Taking the PYP Forward - The pre-primary schools of Reggio Emilia

At some point in my life and career as an educator, I must work in a pre-primary environment.  Around the world the majority of places that call them themselves Reggio inspired are mainly for very young learners.  I see no reason why the same practices and ideas cannot be applied to an upper elementary classroom as well.  This is the first chapter in the book where I felt that this was really pushing education forward.  There have been great ideas in the previous chapters, but for the most part, they are adaptations on the system that is already in place.  Reggio on the other hand, is truly forward thinking.  It brings so many questions forward, and paints a picture of schools that are so radically different from what is considered mainstream education.

Mirrors iPhones kids
Playing with Mirrors and Light
Pedagogical Coordinator (pedagogista) (pg 125)

Naturally, I compare this role with the PYP coordinator.  Though it is so much different.  In a sense, the PYPC is in charge of curriculum and the units of study.  Yes, very good PYPC are also great at introducing the pedagogy and making sure the classrooms are dynamic sources of learning.  Yet, they also have the responsible of making sure the official documents of the school policy are being covered. Imagine if they were free from that burden, and they could focus solely on pedagogy and practice...

children will gravitate toward that which challenges them and is worth knowing (pg 125)

Reggio inspired classrooms have so much trust in the children, and believe so strongly in their abilities. That trust is something that heavily mandated curriculums and test driven environments can never accomplish.  There is too much to cover, so you have to learn what I tell you to learn.  Imagine if we let kids study what they wanted to.  I am not taking about a three day independent investigation scheduled for week 4 or the UOI, or as a step in an inquiry model.  I am taking about always.  For the entirety of their elementary education, from PreK to Grade 5 (or later).  What if they were free to do whatever they wanted to do?  That is a great deal of trust.  Take a look at the Sudbury Schools to see this in action.

Each classroom has two teachers (pg 127)

This is impossible in my current school since our numbers are small and we don't have multiple classes at each level, but what if the teachers of a particular grade level rotated among all the classes?  Or even the students?  Why do three classrooms of grade 5 students have to stay in the same group, with the same teacher?  Why not let it be more fluid?  This would allow the kids to work with a much broader range of learning styles and personality types, and it would force the teachers to collaborate, not just with each other, but with the kids as well.  Or is this just too chaotic?  I would love to try this someday.

Emergent Curriculum (pg 130)

This is the key to Reggio.  There is no set curriculum.  No outcomes.  No standards and benchmarks.  Just inquiry unleashed.  It is focused on the individual child, and the group of learners how they are understanding and thinking about the world around them.  This is what I dream about.  Teacher Tom writes about how his emergent curriculum works at his pre-school (one of the best blogs on education, a must read, even if you don't teach young children).  I think this is entirely possible to do with a group of grade 5 students.  But, it requires a lot of trust, and in our world that is hard to come by.  We would have to trust the teachers to be fully engaged, and we would have to trust the students to be curious and dedicated to personal growth.  It would change the fundamental purpose of schooling, and it would change the way schools are viewed.  It would be revolutionary.

I am willing to give it a try.  You never know until you try.


Taking the PYP Forward - Neuroeducation: Using brain sciences to inform teaching practice

Years of paint

I must admit that this is a subject I am ignorant of.  The complexity of the brain and how it operates within the rest of our body system is a fascinating topic, but I find the material available on this subject to be incredibly simplistic.  There also tends to be huge contradictions in one resource to the next, and while one person says one thing, you can almost certainly find another who says the opposite is true! Not to mention that many of them are made for profit (read the research behind the Baby Einstein products, it has nothing to do with toddlers or young learners yet spawned a multi-million dollar empire).  

The popular edu-neurological texts are usually reduced to simple lists.  They tend to be reductionist and simplistic.  Where I do agree that this is an emerging field, and one that is very important, I have not experienced a great read or resource surrounding it.  Then again, I haven't been looking very hard!

I appreciated the authors sense of the complexity, and he didn't seem to value one aspect of the brain over the other.  There are many facets to the brain, and each one impacts learning.  I think I am waiting for a holistic way of viewing these different areas, instead of breaking them down to individual phenomenon.

Attention Systems (pg 110)

This is really interesting.  I remember reading one study that stated our brain is inundated with close to a million pieces of information a second.  We can only pay attention to and filter a small fraction of those.  The author states that our attention is like a searchlight, finding and focusing only a small part of the stimuli in front of us.  However, Alison Gopnik says that the opposite is true, and that babies and young children have more of a lantern approach, where the attention goes in all directions, and take in lots of information from lots of different sources all at once.  There is one of those edu-neurological contradictions again!  I have no idea which one to believe (though my experience with young children and my gut feeling tells me to side with Gopnik).

"Stop moving, be quiet and pay attention" (pg 111)

I love the way Schneck treats movement and the brain.  It is so refreshing to see an educator telling us that movement and fidgeting are not bad things, and actually, they are essential for effective learning.  I have busy hands and feet, and I have trouble sitting still if I am not writing or reading.  Listening to others can be difficult if I am forced to sit quietly and pay attention.  I know so many kids who are the same.  There are extreme cases, where kids need to be walking around the room while you speak, and less severe cases where squeezing a stress ball will help them stay focused.  Other kids are very content sitting still and listening.  Morale of the story, know your students and how they learn.

The brain does not work by a mechanistic blueprint (pg 113)

He won me over with this comment.  Metaphors are important to how we view the world, and speaking about the brain with using machine or computer like metaphors is just wrong.  It is not like a computer. It is not a machine.  It is a living system.  It is dynamic.  Metaphors from ecosystems and evolution are more apt.  Darwin, not Newton.

The normal process at this stage of development is not to think fully about the consequences (pg 114)

Kids cannot control their inhibition sensors due to the limited growth of the prefrontal lobes and thus cannot comprehend fully the consequences of their actions.  This statement (a paraphrasing of mine) throws traditional methods of discipline on their head.  Imagine a school that lived by that statement....

Stress (pg 120)

The author seems to be suggesting without saying that high stakes testing is immorale.  Wonderful!  I wish we would have said it outright though!  That being said, the brain needs stress to be efficient.  Finding the harmony between too much and too little is another one of the jobs of teaching.  I find that so much of teaching is searching for harmony...


Taking the PYP forward - Actions speak louder than words

I very much enjoyed this chapter.  Davidson is one of the stronger writers in this book and his voice shines through his words.  At first glance, I am struck by the image of a power law distribution.  A power law says that small events will happen in greater frequency than large events.  For example, earthquakes.  There are hundreds of earthquakes every day, but the vast majority are never felt by humans.  When a big one happens, we feel it.  That big one however, is very statistically rare when compared to the number of small ones.  There is something in here that is relevant to education (this is part of our M.Ed research project, looking for realizations in the math class and seeing if they fit power laws), but I am not entirely sure of what.  Davidson alludes to it with his sense of big actions and everyday actions.  Kids are taking action on a daily basis, though in our analysis of action as a concept, we tend to focus on the big events, and miss out on the small bits that are so important to being in the world.

The next aspect that struck me is the power of talk, especially in regards to reflection.  I see power law distributions at play here as well.  If reflection is to become a part of the disposition of learning that we are striving for, then do we need to hold off on the written reflections and allow for reflection to happen more spontaneously during the course of a day?  Stop for a moment and reflect with your partner.  Sit silently and reflect with yourself.  No need to record it, just the act of reflecting itself is what we are after.  All too often the reflection is tacked onto the end of the learning cycle, often in a methodized way (blog post, template, Color Symbol Image or other strategy, etc.).  These are great, but is this really what we are looking for?  They are very important, but are these just the big events in our power law distribution?  Are we paying enough attention to the common events, those everyday earthquakes that nobody feels, or are we just searching for that big one?

This has me thinking about how this will effect my day to day life with my students.  Perhaps, I don't need to see all their reflections?  Just orient attention to the fact that they are being reflective, or I am providing a space for them to reflect in?

Anyway, this chapter was about Action, not reflection!  Still, is there a difference?  How much of the action is reflective practice?  The problems we are asking our kids to consider are huge, wicked problems.  They are complex, and by breaking them down into smaller bite size pieces I often feel that we are doing our kids a dis-service.  The problems of the world cannot be solved with bake sales, or charity drives.  Let's look at climate change.  As a general requirement, it need a massive change in the way that we live.  All the posters about saving electricity and the feel good slogans we come up with for a green future are not going to do anything as long as we keep living the way we live.  I


Maybe, the best form of action is reflection?  To be aware of ourselves, our thoughts, and our connection with the world around us.  If we are mindful of the little common events, perhaps this reflective way of being will allow us to spot and act on the big, life changing stuff.