I am going to try to write in this space as often as I can. Just random thoughts, ideas, and reflections. Not only in my time as principal here at Gatestone, but as I continue to learn and grow as an educator and parent.
This will be my last post for the year so I thought I’d end the way I started, with another article that my wife sent me! I thought this was a good one as I took the time to reflect on what it meant for me. Whether I am in the role of principal or parent, I deal with kids who make poor choices that have consequences beyond just yelling, ie a broken mirror (see article). I appreciated what this mom was saying about anger being a powerful emotion. It is. There are times when anger gives strength and resolve to affect positive change, but more often than not, anger is negative and destructive. How I respond to that child experiencing this emotion sets them up for how they will manage it. Will I teach them how express and cleanse the emotion away in a non-destructive way or will I reinforce and fuel the emotion? The mom in this case talks about how she manged the raw emotion of what happened. Certainly when I see my kids making poor choices, anger can be emotion that wells up in me. I know that I don’t always manage the situation in the best way. This article reminded me that regardless of the emotions I and my kids are feeling they still look up to me in terms or how to deal with it. It’s no different in my role as principal. I hope you enjoy the article.
Have a great summer.
Wow, I didn’t realize it was such a long time since my last post. Plenty has gone on since that time. I did however say I was going to tackle the “new math” idea later a while back. Seeing the Ministry just announced a huge math push a couple weeks back and having spent the day with my gr 1 and gr 4 teachers in professional development in math, I thought I’d take the opportunity now. Before I begin, this is a HUGE topic, and there is no way I can sum it up here nor am I qualified to do so. There is an ongoing debate in the math world, with one side being the traditional teach the skills side vs the problem solving conceptual side. I lean towards the latter to be clear, and this of course is just my opinion. 🙂
First let’s dispel one myth, it’s not new math. It’s the same math that was discovered hundreds if not thousands of years ago. (I add that being a history guy and just loving to know where our knowledge comes from) What has been changing is our understanding of how kids learn combined with research into the importance of understanding math conceptually. In a way the myth isn’t totally untrue. The math is not new but the way it’s being taught is definitely different from the way we were taught. For many of us math was taught through a series a formulas, memorization of facts and drills to reinforce the memorization. Problem solving consisted of word problems, which were the last two or three questions assigned to us in the text book. In most cases the word problems were the exact same as the questions posed earlier but with words attached. I am generalizing. I didn’t realize this (or recall it) until I saw Dan Meyer on a Ted Talk. He uses a high school text to illustrate but elementary texts were structured the exact same way. We became very good at entering values in a formula. Problems consisted of how good we were at manipulating the formula to find the answer. This however did very little to teach us why the formula worked (beyond the one lesson saying here’s how it works but now that you have the formula you don’t need to know anymore.) Those of us who could memorize or were able to naturally understand the concepts excelled, those that couldn’t tended to hate math. For example, if I were to ask what is area? to a group I’ll almost guarantee more than half will respond with Length times width or L x W. We give the formula instead of what area is. What’s more troublesome is that this formula is specific to only two shapes. Ask a kid to calculate something that doesn’t look these shapes and that’s where we run into problems. The same can be said about the algorithms we use to solve the four operations. We teach these to the kids without the understanding of why. Yes they work, but so do hundreds of others. When was the last time anyone did long division? We can’t just give a calculator either. Without understanding what the numbers mean we won’t be able to assess the reasonableness of the answer the calculator gives. This can’t be taught by memorization, it is taught by giving students the ability to understand what adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing really mean and how each of those operations affect numbers. I hear and read stories about how we are failing kids. “They can’t even calculate proper change”. This isn’t because they haven’t memorized facts. They probably have, it’s because they are not able to manipulate numbers in their head using algorithms that aren’t number or place value friendly.
To be a good mathematician in the elementary context is to be able to solve authentic problems using concepts developed over time, with skills being introduced as students require them to solve the problem. In this way the student then understands the context in which those skills are required for the problem at hand. We are looking how important concepts are being taught throughout the year rather than in units. We trying authentic problems that engage all students in figuring out the math. For those grade 6 or grade 7 parents out there ask them about their Flight (gr 6) and Juice Box (gr 7) work. We’re teaching our students to explore the relationships between numbers and more importantly the relationships between concepts.
This is a difficult journey for educators and parents alike. It’s not perfect. I am just one voice in this ongoing discussion but here is what I’ve observed. I’ve taught gr 6-8 math for 10 years. I’ve taught it many different ways. I have had the pleasure and privilege as an administrator to work with many teachers who continue to explore these ideas. I am grateful to them for allowing me to stay current by being a part of their math lessons and in their own journey as math educators. In that time I have come to the following understanding, kids who experience math through authentic problems gain a greater understanding and retention of the concepts of math being taught vs those who get a skill driven program. We are trying to find the balance between both these worlds in terms of our instruction. Our ultimate goal is to be able to reach every student based on their optimum way to learn. But perhaps the most important factor in all this is, I hear “I hate math” less and less when given these engaging problems.
Happy New Year everyone. I mentioned in the January newsletter that I was thinking about writing about Digital Citizenship and Technology. Technology in schools is not new. But the unprecedented availability of technology, the instantaneous communication with others, and the unfathomable amount of information that can be accessed now is. I started to pay attention to this a little more closely the last week or so after watching CNN’s presentation of the documentary on Steve Jobs. (for those not aware, Steve Jobs was the co-founder of Apple Inc) Without getting to far on a tangent, he was the visionary that propelled Apple to be the most valuable company in the world. He believed that technological products should not be viewed as just tools but as extensions of ourselves as we interact with one another. Hence the “i” in the most recent products from Apple. It’s not this I want to comment on but I think its needed for context. In one scene a researcher was talking about this vision and these products have had a side effect of creating isolation not interaction. We have seen it as parents, our kids heads buried in a cell phone, iPad, or other personal device. Even more funny is when they are texting the person next door. Why not just go over? It’s what we would have done. We didn’t have these products either. Our complaint was not having a land line phone in our bedroom. I’ve decided that I can’t change the fact that this technology exists for my kids. They will be using them, head buried. I think I need to teach them what a digital citizen is. We are creating a new culture and with it the “manners” that go along with it. For those of us who grew up in a different time, this change will be the most difficult. For us in school it means looking at when and how are these devices being used. In what context are they being used, personal or educational. If someone is speaking to you, don’t be looking at your screen. (which I know I’m guilty of, but take great pains to ensure I don’t). I have to realize that we can’t impose a previous cultures classroom “manners” to this one. Our classrooms can not be personal technology free any more. This is part of digital citizenship, how do we interact with our devices while maintaining personal connections and more importantly being responsible in its use. Kids are still kids and they will be naturally curious about taboo topics, they still require our guidance in terms of socially acceptable behaviour. I would argue this is even more important now more than ever as their device gives them instant communication and unfiltered access to media content. Where rumours or negative comments were restricted to word of mouth in the past, platforms such as facebook, messenger, texting, instagram, snapchat ect broadcasts that content faster and to a much larger audience. Even more disturbing is the lack of knowledge that once posted you lose control over that content. (Read Facebook’s Terms and Conditions fully, they actually own your content once posted.) Where undesirable content (whatever that may be, x-rated content, racist comments, radical ideology, mis-information) was again restricted and isolated to, for the most part, a “paper” product can be instantly accessed through a quick search on Google. It is critical that we teach students and our kids how to critically analyse this information and choose not to be a part of it, not believe it, or recognize that it’s inappropriate. As risky as this sounds, it doesn’t out weight the tremendous opportunity devices present to transform our learning, both child and adult alike. Teachers are slowly transforming from fact givers to facilitators of critical thinking. We are teaching students how to navigate and manage the information flow. What seems reasonable and what doesn’t. This is the new challenge in our classrooms. We are learning, it will take some time. What I do know is that our kids are not waiting for us to catch up. I witnessed this when I watched my five year build a zoo complete with animals, houses, secret passages and waterfalls, in minecraft. When I asked her how she learned, she responded ” umm, I just played, I can teach you”
Been some time since I’ve written here, plenty of topics to choose from, but I’ve noticed a common theme threaded through several conversations I’ve had of late both explicitly and implicitly. The theme is motivation. What motivates us? What motivates our students? What motivates our kids? In one conversation I had with a couple staff members, we started to talk about the difference between an external motivator and an internal motivator. For context, an external motivator would be something that is done to us, for us, or given to us by someone else. An internal motivator is the feeling, attitude (ethical or moral), or perhaps the sense of accomplishment, that we give to ourselves, normally without anyone else’s involvement. For obvious reasons external motivators are used most often by both parents and educators alike, myself included. “I’ll give you a candy to finish your work”, “Here’s $5.00 to finish your homework”, “If you behave right now, you’ll get more tech time”, “If you don’t or do “A” then “B” will happen” I think you get the point. These are external motivators. Things that happen to us by someone else. We default to this mode of motivation often. I’m guilty of the “be good and you’ll get…” motivator as a parent. As a teacher, rewards of a concrete nature were given freely as goals were met. We do get upset with this mode of operating when the motivators break down. We search for new things to give over as the the old things no longer have any meaning for the individual because there was no internal motivation. My challenge is how do we change over to an internal motivator, one that is not depended on others? How do we replace things with internal satisfaction? For example, I will do this thing, not because of the reward at the end but because it contributes to my character, mental well being, and/or personal growth. This are hard concepts to teach to students and children alike. Please understand, I don’t think all external motivators are bad, I really enjoy my job, the external motivator of being paid to do it doesn’t hurt either. But the sense of accomplishment, of obligation, of satisfaction that I get is just as powerful intrinsically for me. So that leaves us with how do we motivate our students to do well, to demonstrate good character, to develop solid learning skills, and to be socially and behaviourally responsible for their actions? Not because of the carrot we hold out but because they feel it’s the right thing to do. I think this goes deeper into feelings of self worth, self reliance, self esteem, and mental health. The building of resilence within so that when life becomes challenging we have the mental tools to deal with it. As I read over what I’ve just written it leaves me with more questions than when I started. I’m not sure what the right answer is or even the best way to create internal motivation. It could just be how we reflect and learn from our experiences. What I do believe is that we as parents have a critical role to play, and that I as an educator need to ensure we are on the same page.
The past couple weeks have been very busy as we have seen the potential end of two working groups work to rule actions. As you may have noticed the custodians have resumed their duties and our school is looking fantastic once again. Teachers have resumed their administrative tasks as well as the voluntary components of their jobs. Our office admin continue with their work to rule actions as they have yet to settle with the province. I am grateful to staff and parents who have been very patient and understanding through this process. I’ve been reflecting on the past few months labour unrest, both as a parent and as an educator in the system. I shared in the frustrations we have all felt. I’ve heard some of the angry responses, I’ve also heard messages of support. But its the upcoming Remembrance Day activities that really got me thinking. I’ve realized how incredibly lucky I am for living in a country where the rule of law exists to protect our rights and freedoms. As angry, sad, frustrated or disappointed we may have felt about the labour unrest, we live in place where it’s ok to express these feelings and voice them out loud, albeit sometimes not in the most appropriate ways. We live in a country where groups can advocate for their members, where governments can’t do whatever they want (although it may seem that way at times), where we can dissent in peace without fear of reprisals. Remembrance Day just isn’t about honouring those who fought, but reviewing and understanding what happens when human rights are trampled on, especially by governments or individuals in power. The living memory of the two great world wars is slowly being taken, it’s been 70 years since the end of WW2, 97 years since WW1. Both my wifes and my grandfather served in WW2. My wifes in the RAF and mine in the Alpini in Northern Italy. Unfortunately I don’t know much about their personal experiences in the war. My wife’s grandfather passed just after we began dating, my grandfather still lived in Italy when I was growing up. I do know that he spent the last years of his life remembering and fearing that the Germans were coming to get him and his family. I share this because I know we all have stories and personal reflections on war time events and despite the larger picture of those events it’s those personal accounts that have the most meaning to us. We have endured many conflicts since that time in the world, it sometimes feels like we never learn. For tomorrow though, I will remain hopeful that total peace will someday come, appreciative that the country I live in is a good one, that honours human rights, that has made mistakes but continues to make amends, one that ensures that groups can peacefully protest or argue with the government, one that celebrates that I can write this message today and that it’s ok for you to agree or disagree with what I’ve written, but more importantly I hope that we make those men and women who gave their lives and those who still serve to protect those freedoms proud. I think the best way we do that is by respecting one another, it’s just that simple.
I came in from my soccer game last night and the first thing my wife said to me was “I sent something for you to read”, a coy smile on her face as she said it. This diplo-speak is her way of saying read this because it’s something you do that you need to think about. Of course I read it immediately, first because I enjoy the articles she sends me, and secondly, “communication is key in any marriage” which is my diplo-speak for doing as I’m told. As I mentioned in a previous post there are many reasons why I appreciate what she sends me. The reason today speaks to me being a parent. This article hit me on a number of levels. The first being that I didn’t realize what I do as a parent unconsciously. I for sure tell my twins to “hurry up” all the time and for many of the same things that the article talks about. Not because I want to be mean, or that I’m uninterested in what they are doing, but because I get so focussed on what is next in our daily schedule that I become oblivious to everything else. The second being that I can now see how I rushed them in having fun. “Hurry with that fun thing or curiosity because we have another fun thing to do” or “hurry up and have fun because we have a schedule to maintain” I am now forced to rethink this as what I thought would be fun for them may not be what they wanted to focus on. I like what the article says about taking time to live in the moment. I don’t think I do that enough. We all live in a world where schedules need to be met, hurrying up is sometimes necessary. Our twins have reached the dreaded milestone of the “just a minute” response when asked to get ready. While I don’t think I’ll stop using hurry up completely, I will consciously try to live in the moment as often as I can.
Before I was an administrator, I spent many years teaching grade 6,7, and 8 mathematics. As long as I can remember meeting with parents I’ve heard two phrases used over and over, “I don’t understand this new math” and “I want more homework for math”. I will in another post discuss the “new” math. For this post I would like to focus on the homework. Every parent, myself included, wants to see work come home for a multitude of reasons. Two that I like are; I want to see what my kids are doing in school, and two the need to practice skills. Math instruction, like every other subject, continues to evolve as we grow in our collective understanding of how kids learn. Much of our math instruction is delivered through problem solving tasks that involve group work, manipulatives and complicated tasks. Not an easy thing to send home as homework. Many times teachers will find worksheets to send home, practicing skills, but out of context with tasks at hand. Practicing skills is important, but it comes with understanding on how that skill contributes to a greater goal, or in the case of math a larger concept or problem. Sending home a problem, leaves parents with the issue of “I don’t understand the new math”. Which brings me back to the first question parents ask. This also leaves us the problem of homework in math. We need students to be practicing skills within context. How do we do that as parents? How do we support our children’s learning? How do we encourage practice? My wife and I have the exact same questions. So I leave you all with these websites and programs. A couple I used in my teaching practice, others are new. Try them out, see what’s there. Many are fun and engaging, you may find your kids not wanting to get off the tech!!
National Library of Virtual Mathematics – cool games for kids to play http://nlvm.usu.edu/
Mathies Website – tools, games, information http://oame.on.ca/mathies/index.html
Prodigy great game to practice skills (more skill development but very engaging) – www.prodigygame.com
Let your kids play minecraft – the single best invention for teaching 3D geometry and spatial awareness.
Cool Math Games – http://www.coolmath-games.com/
Fun Brain Games – http://www.funbrain.com/
Information to help understand what we are doing
As I have been visiting classrooms and interacting with the students these past few weeks, I am impressed with how many classrooms use learning goals, success criteria and feedback everyday. These are terms you may heard thrown around and to be honest it can all get lumped into the category of “edu jargon” that educators use on a daily basis. I constantly remind myself when meeting with people outside of education, especially parents, that these terms, along with an entire dictionary of acronyms, have little or no meaning to them. I think we all need to be a little more conscious about explaining what terms such as feedback or success criteria means within the context of what it looks like to a student. I was in one particular classroom, watching how groups of students were working. I had commented on how they were using learning goals, success criteria and feedback. The teacher had spoken about her learning in this area and how the video Austins’ Butterfly had given her inspiration. I was watching it a few days ago, and saw that this a great example of how feedback can be used to improve student work. It’s also a great video to explain what we educators mean when we say feedback.
Watch “Austin’s Butterfly: Building Excellence in Student Work – Models, Critique, and Descriptive Feedback” on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/38247060
My wife is an EA in the board. She spends many nights reading different articles about kids with challenging and complex issues and how they and their families deal with it. She passes on to me several “gems” that she finds and I am forever appreciative for that for a number of reasons. One of the reasons I’ll share today, is she’s always helping me become a better administrator. So here are two links to two articles I read last night that she sent me. One is from the perspective of a teacher when talking about students with challenging needs, the other from the perspective of a parent with a child that has challenging needs. These minded me of the dual role I have to play everyday as a parent and as a principal. Many times I sit in the perspective of the teacher when talking to “other” parents, and at the same time I have the understanding of the perspective of the parent of “that” child. It makes my job really hard in the instances where I have all the information but can’t share any of it. As a principal I follow the process and policies, as a parent I want to know why. I think if you read the articles you’ll see how difficult it can be. I haven’t really processed all that these articles offer me in terms of my job, but I am once again grateful to my wife for challenging my thinking and understanding.