Month: February 2017

Making a Base Camp near the Summit

Making a Base Camp near the Summit

Lately, I’ve engaged in Innovator’s Mindset MOOC (#IMMOOC) with George Curous and a variety of leading edge educators. As an aspect of this MOOC, we have opportunities to blog about different topics and this week the question has been raised:  What do you see as the purpose of education?  Why might innovation be crucial in education?

There was an American NFL football coach whose philosophy about winning was that you need to make “a basecamp near the summit”, meaning that having a culture of high performance and personal character is paramount to success. As PYP coordinator, I feel strongly that the International Baccalaureate framework does this. I think as teachers, we strive to do this daily, in every moment of our day. But this notion, engaging our students in their idea of “besbill-walsht selves” in how I would define the purpose of education. I think it’s not enough to “know stuff” but also to “do stuff”. And when I say “do stuff”, I mean to cultivate classrooms and schools in which students are empowered to take action and initiatives in areas of high interest and impact. Ultimately we can no longer produce students who show indifference but are passionate and involved in life. When students are inspired and eager, it’s amazing what they can do. In the words of Bill Walsh, “the score takes care of itself”.

George Curous also makes a strong case that it’s not enough for educators to “know stuff” either, but they need to be fully engaged as well. As educators, we cannot be waiting for our schools or districts to drop innovation into our laps–we must roll up our own sleeves with the resources we have and engage in the emerging curriculum of the 21st century so that we can refine and evolve our practices. For example, if we want kids to blog–we need to blog. How can we seriously teach what we do not know?

At the end of the day, this is my litmus test—are we walking the talk of the innovation? Have we really “drank the kool-aide” or are we just trying to fit our old paradigms about education into the “new” framework? The future of our students has yet to even been created. When we consider the amount of change that has taken place in just the last 10 years, it seems obvious that we are being beckoned to become more pliable and creative in our approaches to teaching and learning. We can no longer sit in our comfort zone, passing out worksheets, expecting students to be attentive yet passive in their learning. As I see it, kids are more curious than ever because of how connected we are with technology–we need to tap into this energy and interest. And this is exactly why I feel so earnestly that we need to “make a base camp near the summit”–developing classrooms that look towards the future, not repeat what was of yesterday. In this way,  we can empower and ignite the next generation of students by evaluating if our classrooms and schools against this benchmark, so that they can go further, faster, in ethical and practical ways.

Here is what I see as critical areas that can drive innovation in our schools:

  • Classroom cultures in which expectations are high and opportunities to create are often.
  • Having well-planned projects and activities that move their thinking into divergent paths.
  • We as educators reflect, redo or remix our teaching ideas, and be willing to adapt to suit the students’ needs, not ours.
  • Let the students voice in and provide them with choices.
  • Process over product is valued, in which design thinking is the norm.
  • Be willing to experiment and discuss openly mistakes and how we can learn from them.
  • We as educators engage in the technology that our students would be expected to use now and in the future–and I’m not talking about a powerpoint–anything from Minecraft to Twitter to using Evernote.
  • Also, give them a break from routine. All work and no play really do make one dull. Research shows that mind wandering creates diffused states of thinking, in which different parts of the brain start talking to each other and connect ideas.

I feel heartened by the fact that there is a serious movement abrew here, in which educators like the ones engaged in this MOOC, aren’t waiting for policy makers to create classrooms of the future. But we are driving the change that we wish to see in our schools, and hopefully, it will ultimately be the students who take an active interest. If we, as educators can get the students to do that, well then, I think the summit is within reach indeed.

 

Literacy Amplified: Using Technology Tools Effectively

Literacy Amplified: Using Technology Tools Effectively

Technology has the ability to enhance learning with positive results. That said, we need to be careful not to assume all technology is good technology or that just having access to technology automatically equates to higher learning outcomes. Strong leaders in education carefully select technology tools and implement strategies so that the tool will not distract or take away from the learning goals, which can easily happen.  -Elizabeth Moje-

I can completely relate to that piece of wisdom, as we have explored 1:1 iPads in our primary classes. Sometimes classrooms can be overzealous in the use of technology, and the point of its use gets lost in using this “shiny tool”. We’ve had to reflect, is it the app/tool that drives our instruction or is it the curriculum? And I think to refine our choices through this filter (the curriculum) is helping us to make better decisions when selecting technology tools.

Studies by Harold Wenglinsky and other researchers from the US Department of Education have indicated that there are criteria that we must consider in our decisions with effective technology use in the classroom. Educators have to ask themselves the following:

  1. Does it elicit higher-order thinking around the contenttechnology-in-class or just an over consumption of content?
  2. Are their social interactions between students, which help build student knowledge. Collaboration is a key skill in developing digital literacies, so keep that in mind when selecting tools.
  3. Does it provide quality over quantity when it comes to practicing skills so that critical thinking is being developed?
  4. What is the “value-added” element of the tool?  Is instruction more personalized and/or differentiated; and can the students develop a more sophisticated understanding of the content?

 

When it comes to developing literacy skills, we have to remember that whatever the tool we choose, it should augment what we already know is critical in developing good readers. So what do we know about good readers?

  • They are active, with clear goals in mind and a purpose for reading.
  • They are constantly evaluating the text, asking questions and making predictions.
  • They can peruse the text carefully, noticing the importance of text features and structure.
  • As they read, they are engaged in making meaning of the text, constructing and revising their understanding.
  • They are making decisions as they read, reflecting on what to read carefully, what to read quickly, what not to read, what to reread, and so on.

When it comes to good writing, we want to make sure the tool reinforces what we know is vital to cultivate in our learners:

  • Writing that is focused, with an obvious topic or idea.
  • Ideas that are detailed and flow clearly.
  • The student engages in a process of revision, elaboration, and editing so that the writing improves.
  • The student sees themselves as an author and is aware that their writing is meant to be shared and appreciated.

Keeping in mind, what we know about good literacy instruction, then we can use technology to amplify the learning in our classrooms. I love what Eric Johnson says about using technology in his instruction, as he explains how teachers can discern what makes for enhanced literacy teaching and learning with technology.

fullsizerender-50
These four-year-olds work together to create a simple story. Each selected a character and then recorded their characters’ expressions to create a dialogue between them.

Considering this, when we want to amplify the results of our literacy programs, we need to make sure that students aren’t sitting alone, swiping mindlessly through an app or game, but instead, we have a clearly defined purpose for using the tool, and then demonstrate how to use these tools through a Think Aloud or Read-aloud. We may have to model how to work collaboratively in order to apply certain literacy strategies and/or complete a project.  This could include even how students should be sharing their knowledge, and reflecting how well they are doing in meeting the standards of the task.

In our classrooms, we want our students engaged and their learning enhanced as they work with technology. Even at home, I’m a huge advocate for showing students and their families how iPads are tools and not toys so that there is more thought put into the use of this technology. We want our students to be empowered and innovative so that there is a shift from consumption to creation when it comes to content.

So before you start app smashing or sit your student down to a website, ask yourself what impact will this technology REALLY make in the overall learning? And if you can’t identify that, then move away from the “shiny tool” syndrome and take more time to either find a more appropriate tool or use a time-tested traditional method to meet the learning goals.

 

I Think, therefore I Math

I Think, therefore I Math

I remember the first time I fell in love with math. I was enrolled in Mr. MacFarlene’s DP Math class. He often told jokes and odd stories about mathematicians but one day he did this lesson proving Pythagoras’ theorem using origami–that changed my life! After that lesson, I began to enjoy thinking mathematically. Math suddenly became real to me and I started to see it in my everyday life.

square-numbers Recently, during a conversation about math standards with a fellow primary school teacher,  we talked about how math symbols and algorithms can be very off-putting for students when they don’t understand the conceptual basis of an idea. We had a  love rant over using inquiry-based approaches in order to conceptualize problems and build models in order to show visual representations. When done in this way, math can become suddenly interesting, even “beautiful”.

Have you ever seen this TED Talk by Jo Boaler? (If not, watch it now–seriously it’s awesome!) As someone who once struggled with math, and later “got it”, minoring in it in university, I can appreciate the research that demonstrates how mindset is everything in overcoming barriers to problem-solving.

 

Most of the math taught in schools is over 400 years old and is not actually the mathetmatics that students need. -Jo Boaler-

When I reflect on my own experience as a learner and ponder this educational research, I wholeheartedly agree that inquiry-based learning naturally cultivates a joy in the struggle as students actively engage in problems that are relevant and interesting. Boaler calls this a multi-dimensional approach to teaching math, which would include the following:

  1. Posing  stimulating questions
  2. Providing multiple approaches to problem-solving
  3. Communicating student thinking
  4. Representing ideas in a variety of ways
  5. Using reasoning in order to justify the validity of a solution.

When engaged in this way, students begin to grasp ideas extensively, making connections to other mathematical concepts and applying them in a range of different contexts. The best part is that students become fascinated by math problems and solving them can be fun.

What I love most about the comparative research of inquiry-based math and traditional approaches to teaching is that this multi-dimensional approach not only closes the achievement gap but increases achievement, especially in more diverse socioeconomic schools like this group ; in fact, in more linguistically diverse populations, this approach not only improves math scores but also reading and science. As someone whose IB school population is mostly ELLs (English Language Learners), I have witnessed how transdisciplanary learning accelerates learning in so many subject areas. It feels like a no-brainer to teach this way, yet so many schools still rely on textbooks and worksheets. It’s a shame that those students miss out on all the juicy thinking.

However, I believe with all the focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education, the trend towards favoring slow and deep mathematical thinking (vs. fast yet shallow problem-solving) will be inevitable. With 21st century learning, there’s a greater demand for integration of disciplines. Creating authentic situations in which real and compelling questions naturally develop, with a sublime amount of mystery lurking in it so that students can imagine and debate ideas during their problem-solving process, is becoming more universally accepted as effective math teaching, even in non-IB schools.

As a lover of math, the transition into these approaches gives me hope that my daughter might not have to wait until high school before she can relish the effort and be absorbed in a math task. I dream that one day she fumbles the words of Descartes and whispers into my ear, I think, therefore I math.

 

I am the Force, and the Force is Within Me.

I am the Force, and the Force is Within Me.

If you have seen Rogue 1, the latest Star Wars movie, then you know what my title is all about. As I interpret it, it means tapping into the field of our inner potential to overcome challenges and obstacles. I think, as educators, we grapple with this all the time, especially when we contemplate whether or not we are making a positive impact in our classrooms and in our school community.

Recently I reread Ron Ritchart’s Creating Cultures of Thinking: The 8 Forces We Must Master to Truly Transform Our Schools. In case you don’t know the 8 forces that shape a school’s culture of teaching and learning, let me give you a cheat:

  1. Expectations (of learning)
  2. Language (teacher and student talk)
  3. Time
  4. Modeling
  5. Opportunities (powerful learning moments)
  6. Routines (Visible Thinking routines)
  7. Interactions
  8. Environment

As I was rereading the parts I had highlighted and bookmarked, it got me thinking about the 2nd term. We have quite a few staff members leaving, myself included, and there is the danger of coasting instead of pushing the boundaries. I recognize that as a leader I have the choice to either uphold the status quo or to compel myself and others out of our comfort zone and demand more of ourselves and our kids. After watching an episode of Impact Theory with Dr. Moran Cerf, it got me thinking even more deeply about the need to move outside comfort levels:

It all comes down to the narrative that you tell yourself… Because the narrative you tell yourself, about yourself, is the most important thing you have; and if you tell yourself a story about struggle and inadequacy, not being good enough then that is going to reinforce your literal identity. The day I stopped thinking of myself as smart, and I started thinking of myself as a learner-that changed everything…it became this identity that is anti-fragile because if you told me I was stupid, it didn’t matter, it just compelled me to learn more.

Tom Bilyeu

I loved that! And as I listened to the interview, it really inspired me to alter our staff meeting. I felt that we all relate to this idea of “the learner” and that the love of teaching and learning could drive our practice to the next level.

During omindset-outline-graphicur staff PD session, we spoke candidly and asked questions about the concept of “YET”; how we can embrace those parts of us that professionally are “fixed” and encourage the growth mindset in our practice and most importantly in our students. What was funny is that inadvertently every aspect of the Ron Richart’s cultural forces came up in our discussions and reflections today. When we got into our collaborative groups to share and rework our professional goals, there was a greater sense of synergy, purpose, and creativity.

I really look forward to hearing what ideas emerge as we go through this process of achieving our professional goals,  as well as the collaboration and peer support that we can offer each other as we engage in more risk-taking in our classroom practice.

Just as “I am the Force, and the Force is within me”, I know that it is also true for the great teachers that I work with, and moreover, our students. Now I  just can’t wait to see what amazing things come out our second term.

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Judy Imamudeen

Judy Imamudeen

Developing learners as leaders is my joy! As a highly qualified International Baccaluearate (IB) teacher and educational leader, I am committed and passionate about executing its framework and empowering students in creating a future world that works for everyone.

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