Showing posts from May, 2013

the power of doing it again

I have written before about this strategy. It is partly inspired by Making Thinking Visible, and a vague memory from a poetry workshop with Larry Swartz. I have adopted it to my own needs.

Here is how it works:

The purpose of the activity is two-fold;

First is to investigate and define a term that we have been playing with and inquiring into. A student created definition, which we can then compare and contrast with other definitions (wikipedia, dictionary, journals, books, etc). Often the terms we are defining are not terms that are easily defined even by experts. There are common elements, but the details are murky. That is what we are after. Murky details.

Second is to tap the collective intelligence. We are more capable as a group than we are as individuals. We can accomplish so much more as a collective of people (if you doubt this statement, think of wikipedia for a moment). I am very explicit about this section. At each iteration, I want them focusing on what aspects have change…

thinking about making pedagogy visible

Over the last two years, I have made a big effort to make thinking visible.  For the last couple of days I have had this idea in my head about making pedagogy visible to the learners.  Inviting them into the space and rational behind the process of their learning.  Explicitly.  Having them reflect on the pedagogy the class is using.

I wonder, am I already doing that?  Does focusing on thinking dispositions, inquiry process, and meta-cognitive positioning open the pedagogy to the learner?  Is it out in the open?  It is named and discussed?  Do teachers need to explain their rational for the strategies and activities?  Will this allow students to be more self-aware of themselves as learners?  Will it create a space for the teacher to allow the students to alter and affect their explicit pedagogy?   Would it empower students to take control of their learning?  Is this an essential part of learning to learn?

Any ideas?

Inquiry into Learning Systems; Nested Systems

During the next six weeks, my class will be inquiring into ecosystems.  We will be using the Core Ecological Concepts by the Center for Ecoliteracy to orient our exploration.  While the students are inquiring into the patterns and processes that sustain life on earth, I will be following my own inquiry into our learning system.  My guiding question is; how are classrooms like ecosystems?
Nested Systems
Nature is made up of systems that are nested within systems. Each individual system is an integrated whole and — at the same time — part of larger systems. Changes within a system can affect the sustainability of the systems that are nested within it as well as the larger systems in which it exists. For example: Cells are nested within organs within organisms within ecosystems. (Center for Ecoliteracy)

From a systems perspective, there are many systems playing off each other, iterating, folding back on themselves, and expanding. These multiple systems affect one another and are affected b…


We played frolf today.  I don't often get to teach PE, but when I do I tend to love it.  Today was so much fun.

Frolf - Frisbee Golf; start at a designated start spot and throw the frisbee to the cone.  Count how many throws it takes to hit the cone.  Record your score.  At the end, record your total for all the holes.

Team Frolf - each member shoots their frisbee and then they choose the best one and then everybody shoots from that spot.
Speed Frolf - the score is irrelevant.  It is a race.

Rich Data

Getting sets of rich data makes math classes so much more dynamic.  Even better when the students collect it themselves.  It is so easy to do.  Set up a simple activity, time it, record it, and then you can play with it in a number of ways.  They are invested because the data represents them, they see themselves in it.  Once you have this, and it doesn't take long to gather, you can manipulate it in so many ways, and record your strategies.  Plus, it enforces the skill of gathering data, using tables, and how general organization will aid you down the line.

Simple Ideas to record your data:

- put 20 multi-link blocks on the table with a stopwatch and have them put them together in a straight line and record the results
- use a reflex tester online and record trails
- timing physical activities like jumping jacks, saying the alphabet, squats, running laps etc.

Simple Ideas to manipulate your data:

- make a graph
- pool them all together
- categorize the data by gender, age, hair colo…

Group Writing

If you have never tried to write a short story with your entire class, I highly recommend it.  Set a theme, agree on some guiding points, give the first sentence (or not, but it sets a nice poetic tone if you can come up with something filled with images and symbolism), project the document onto a shared wall, and then let the maddening cacophony of noise and ideas take over.

Your job is to type.

And criticize.

And provoke.

And probe.

And challenge.

Be ruthless.

Demand something better.

Take it one sentence at a time.

They will deliver.  And the result will be a collective voice that is more powerful than any individual can accomplish.

Read our story HERE.

It is amazing, I can look at any sentence in this story and tell you where the idea came from.  Who suggested it, who modified, and how it emerged.  Simply a fantastic way to spend an hour.

Inquiry into Learning Systems: Networks

During the next six weeks, my class will be inquiring into ecosystems.  We will be using the Core Ecological Concepts by the Center for Ecoliteracy to orient our exploration.  While the students are inquiring into the patterns and processes that sustain life on earth, I will be following my own inquiry into our learning system.  My guiding question is; how are classrooms like ecosystems?

All living things in an ecosystem are interconnected through networks of relationship. They depend on this web of life to survive. For example: In a garden, a network of pollinators promotes genetic diversity; plants, in turn, provide nectar and pollen to the pollinators. (Center for Ecoliteracy)

Three Types of Networks

Centralized - all members of the group (or species in the ecosystem, depending on what kind of scale we are talking about) are connected to the central node. This type of environment is great for communication, but is only as robust as the center node. If that falls down, then …

The Marshmallow Challenge

Since watching the TED Talk on the Marshmallow Challenge, we have been doing it once a month this year.  I thought they would tire of it, but if anything, the enthusiasm has risen as the year progresses.  One month, when it slipped my mind, they insisted we do it twice the next month to make up for lost time.  A week doesn't go by when somebody reminds me that we still have to do the marshmallow challenge this month.

It is amazing how many lessons have emerged out of this.  It kicked off a really interesting inquiry into shapes and construction early in the year.  In December, we spent the debrief time making a list of the roles people play while working in a team; the listener, the idea-generator, the criticizer, the worker, etc.      It also creates a space for powerful self and collective introspection, paying attention to themselves and their role in the group.  Every month, the groups are randomized, so you never know who you are working with until the day comes.

A colleague…