Showing posts from January, 2013

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 t…

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…

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 …

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 st…

Book Review: Restorative Justice Pocketbook

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 thi…

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 a…

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

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.  Tr…

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 tha…

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 …

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…

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.

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 a…

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

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…

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…