It’s a brand new day – make it the best one yet

This post begins with a deep breath.

The world we live in seems to be in a free fall – from the flames of racial injustice to the deepening curve of a pandemic, there are so many in turmoil. People have expressed agony over the excrutiating and arduous task of navigating such difficult conversations in the midst of social distancing and mask-wearing. Most certainly, a return to “normal” does not seem very likely.

And thank goodnes, because I don’t want to go back to the way things were.

I want every voice to be heard and respected. I want every student with whom I engage to believe in herself and cheer on their classmates and teachers. I want kids to learn from inspirational and charismatic adults that I am responsible for encouraging and motivating so that they may have confidence to empower young people to speak their minds, to listen to the words of others, and to agree that different opinions matter and are vital to the development of a rich society filled with trust and empathy.

If you attempt to implement reforms but fail to engage in the culture of school, nothing will change

Seymour Sarason

That effort starts with me. Let’s start with engaging school culture. The culture in the school which I work is filled with joy and determination. When the COVID-19 quarantine occurred mid-March, we didn’t falter…we built anew. My boss, the head of school for my institution, defined our effort as building a boat while trying to sail it. While we had to leave the shore, we had a hope and a prayer that the vessel was shipshape. And we thrived – not as good as in-person learning, but most certainly in a way that was maximized by our well-developed relationships with students. The relationship is the key (which is our biggest fear of the coming school year without those great relationships developed). So we have to consider ways to build empathetic relationships, and build them quickly.

A few parents have reached out to me this summer, sharing their concerns regarding the start of school. Health and safety are paramount, but I am humbled by their desire to have in-person school to propel the positive culture of my school forward. They want confirmation that we will have that enriched environment like they depend on to help develop their own children into the best versions of themselves. I have responded with a similar template that applies to each child. I’ve posted it below:


Your concern about factors that we can and cannot control in determining an in-person return to school are completely warranted. Please know that we are doing everything we can to ensure a safe, in-person experience can happen for everyone. For your family’s safety and that of our faculty, our goal for this summer remains in the plan to have both an in-person learning plan and a remote option for learning. They need to exist simultaneously. They need to be excellent. And they need to be available on day one.

Up until this week, the plan was all but certain to be in-person from day one. Like you, I now worry that the spread of coronavirus has taken our ability to execute that plan out of our hands. We cannot supersede the restrictions of our government officials, and we will not compromise the safety of our students. I pray that people in the city consider ways to be careful and focus on the general state of health in the city. All this being said, we have not changed our planning tactics, though we will create various scenarios which adjust the delicate balance of in-person and remote class time to ensure that learning can continue to flow with gusto. From advancing our middle school scheduling to considering better assessment practices, we are going to be ready.

I am grateful for your hopes and prayers that this virus takes a turn for the better. I appreciate the sense of urgency your inquiry offers to ensure that a plan is in place for your student. I will continue to work tirelessly to achieve a plan that promotes maximum effort, enthusiasm, and opportunity for every person in (and out) of our building.

Bringing School Together – Connection Learning in Math and Science (Volume One, Post 3)

“Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air, and behold the view. Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you.” 

Warren Berger, A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas

As you may have read in the previous post highlighting Humanities and Language Acquisition, Presbyterian School has developed a middle school program centered on the construct of Identity, enabling learners to engage with their personal strengths while celebrating and utilizing the capabilities of others through well-developed curriculum based on empathy, determination, and self-worth.  The Identity construct remains relevant in all content areas of a child’s middle school career here at PS. While there is a direct exploration of this concept in Humanities, our Connections courses do much to reaffirm the Identity lens within the mathematical and scientific pathways.  We place our math and science courses under the umbrella of Connection Learning because these content areas offer the learner an introduction to and practice of trial-and-error (Scientific Method) while building confidence in problem finding.

“The quality of the question you ask — or the way you frame the problem you’re trying to solve — determines the context, meaning and significance of the project.”

― Mo Fox, 7 Steps To Better Problem Framing In Design Thinking

The Great Exploration

The science component of our program aims to engage students in opportunities which identify how things work as opposed to simply knowing what things are.  In the modern, “Googleable” world, much of the words we find in bold within textbooks provide learners a solid foundation.  We take learning a step beyond this foundation, imploring students to consider what they will do with what they know.  Our goal rests in the creativity that manifests when students present learning through dynamic construction.  Whether it’s a unique presentation, a physical model, or engaging, research-based discussions, our students learn through doing.  Further, when considering one’s own personal experience to that of a classmate, learners can broaden their horizons. Students realize that pathways in research may be similar; yet, they are always distinctive and valuable, offering students new methods to use in future efforts.

Our goal rests in the creativity that manifests when students present learning through dynamic construction.  

The primary step in this process is choice.  Allowing our students to “choose their own adventure” within a framework provided, we can expect engagement in learning to increase and advance to unexplored territory.  A child who learns like a Pathfinder will find comfort in taking calculated risks and have confidence when changing direction in the face of failure.  As psychologist Jo Moser discovered, the learning that occurs from mistakes is evident in the development of the human brain.  In short, when we mess up and learn from past experience, our brain pathways grow and develop, almost like working out a muscle in the gym (Moser et al., 2011).  Presbyterian School celebrates these learning opportunities and the strengthening of our neural pathways. We teach students to become engaged individuals who embrace the challenge in learning for the sake of becoming a stronger thinker.

“The general thesis regarding the future of work here is this: the arc is toward problem-solving generalists rather than those with specialized expertise.  To be succinct, that means we are going to need more and more people who are quick learners rather than those who are deeply learned.  ‘Learning on the job’ will take on a whole new meaning.  While “specializations” like doctors and lawyers will still need a deep knowledge base, even they will be expected to learn at an accelerating pace.  The most attractive employees will exhibit ‘mental agility,’ the ability to ‘pivot,’ ‘comfort with ambiguity,’ and will be ‘open to new experiences.’”

― Will Richardson, Inspecting for Signs of Decay

Will Richardson’s quote accentuates the art of identifying learning pathways while remaining mentally agile.  In our hallways, we often talk about “living in the grey” within the development of the adolescent learner. The wonder of discovery is alive and well in years 11-14, and so is the impressionable mind that could choose to shy away from failure.  We must embrace both of these characteristics if we hope to enable young minds to develop into Pathfinders who are open to new experiences.

Making Connections

When a child enters the sixth grade science classroom, the world of discovery and how things work begins.  For instance, school commences during hurricane season, and Houston is no stranger to inclement weather. Our students begin working on a severe weather unit that has large global maps in front of teams of students analyzing winds, currents, and hurricanes.  Students pour over these maps, measuring and plotting the paths of weather systems in an effort to develop research skills which they discuss and display. The intentional pairing of this course with the mathematical discovery taking place in their pre-algebra classroom provides exposure to concepts through an analytical lens.  Measurement, observation, inference, scientific sketching/drawing, collecting data, representing and interpreting data using data tables and graphs, and drawing valid conclusions integrate with math skills during scientific investigations.

“When I hear of an event, such as an earthquake or volcanic eruption on the radio, I ask my students about it.  They share what they know and then we explore why it happened where it did. I relate the event to Earth processes, such as plate tectonics/subduction or climate change.”

-Carmen Druke, Sixth Grade Science

Seventh grade students take that wonder a step forward through hands-on learning experiments in biology.  Seventh grade science is all about life and the interconnectivity of one thing to another. We learn to define life, the requirements for it and its interactions within communities over time.  Students create, through modeling and experimentation, a bridge of understanding between the concrete and theoretical. Utilizing microscopic observations, dissections, and other interactive activities, students experience how individual parts affect complex systems as a whole.  Emphasizing the value of wonder, students begin to view science as a path from mistake to mastery of a skill or idea. Through exploration and discovery, students test theories in order to explain how all sorts of changes will influence projected outcomes.

“Science isn’t about seeing what the ‘right’ answer is. Science is being able to recognize a reasonable answer and explain what could have caused an unreasonable result via testing and data collection.” 

-Anna Head, Seventh Grade Science

As we move towards eighth grade, the education of each child develops into a self-driven, inquiry-based approach to discovery and opportunity.  Whether they are creating prototypes, informing others on scientific issues, or simply exploring something new, students embrace learning because they must own their pathways.  Digesting scientific journals has been a part of a middle school student’s entire experience, and an emphasis on scientific literature becomes vital to the Pathfinder’s mission in eighth grade in order to analyze expert knowledge with greater awareness and correlate this information when presenting research.  

Additionally, our eighth grade classrooms enjoy greater emphasis on cross curricular activities as a way to solidify student understanding and recollection of knowledge.  In fact, much of what an eighth grade student experiences in math class can be practiced in the science classroom, essentially creating a block of time during the day when a learner can explore through a very focused lens.  For example, eighth grade students design their own catapult during math and science classes. Math class time allows for measuring parabolas made by their catapult projectiles, while science class focuses on the engineering and structural design of a student’s machine. 

Laying Foundations for Creative Problem Solving

Presbyterian School highlights the “why” in mathematics where hypotheses can be tested, facts can be proven, and results can be shared.  Our goals for mathematical learning at Presbyterian School include:

Seeing math as a language used to communicate logical arguments which will solve problems

Developing a lens capable of critical reasoning and astute investigation

Communicating mathematical thinking clearly to classmates and community

Creating and using models to organize, record, and communicate mathematical ideas in ways that speak to personal learning styles

Our math program in both sixth and seventh grade utilizes the curriculum designed for thinkers by Open up Resources in coordination with Illustrative Mathematics.  This curriculum focuses on mathematical literacy (similar to the lens of learning) by targeting the ability to verbalize, demonstrate, and write about mathematical processes in very specific ways.  Fundamental skill sets incorporate concepts where making sense of problems means estimating and trying different approaches. Students select and use appropriate tools while evaluating the integrity and significance of answers.  They practice pattern recognition and are able to make generalizations while listening to the reasoning of others. A child continuously builds on previous knowledge to advance conceptual understanding of a topic and moves towards procedural fluency.  The use of intentional mathematical language and instructional routines provides a structure for the classroom which students can enjoy with consistency. Our sixth and seventh grade classrooms accentuate the 5 Practices for Mathematical Discussion which allow students to have rich discussions about their understanding, ask better questions, compare and contrast various techniques, and note misconceptions about a concept.

“I love when a student discovers that they really understand a concept. Their eyes light up, they get a huge grin on their face, and they are loud and excited.  The student feels successful, and feels like a real mathematician, maybe for the first time in their lives. They feel like they belong in a class that is intellectually challenging, even if math has been hard for them in the past.”

-Beth Robertson, Seventh Grade Math

By the end of eighth grade, our students complete a curriculum equivalent to a high school Algebra I course; the concepts presented in eighth grade become increasingly abstract as students work to define a mathematical model for each problem they discover.  Our students find consistent success in their high school math placement, primarily based on the mathematical reasoning capabilities they build in their classrooms. The Formula we enjoy, pun intended, is one that centers on the most engaging pathways that offer challenging real world problems in order to make the material relevant.  We aim to drive the “what is this for / when we will ever use this” question to obsolescence as the application of concepts presented directs our mathematical conversation. Gamifying practice sets and assessments in digital learning centers like Kahoot, Quiziizz and home-grown healthy competitions inspire engagement and childlike joy into the classroom.

“From the moment students walk in the door, my goal is to both engage their critical thinking and problem solving skills as well as make the method by which we learn and practice fun.”

-Brandon Walker, Eighth Grade Math

Math at Presbyterian School often presents itself as a puzzle with multiple ways to find a solution.  Learning from challenges and mathematical misconception serves as amplification of our Growth Mindset, or the capacity to learn from mistakes and improve one’s approach to problem solving. This is true for both students that struggle and students deemed “strong” in math.

Concluding Thoughts

We believe that the world of learning is beautiful, and Presbyterian School encourages students to discover this beauty with an open mind and full heart.  Connection Learning advances this effort through a unique set of skills and lenses. Pathfinders in our math and science classrooms create pivotal and expansive platforms on which they can discover new and dynamic things. Each child has a voice that is heard and celebrated as a phenomenal contribution within our own learning environment and beyond, bringing meaningful and joyful opportunities to share.


References:

Boaler, Jo, and Carol S. Dweck. (2016). Mathematical Mindsets: Unleashing Students’ Potential Through Creative Math, Inspiring Messages and Innovative Teaching. First edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass; a Wiley Brand. Print.

Fox, Mo (2018). 7 Steps to Better Problem Framing in Design Thinking.  LinkedIn.com

Moser, J. S., Schroder, H. S., Heeter, C., Moran, T. P., & Lee, Y. H. (2011). Mind Your Errors Evidence for a Neural Mechanism Linking Growth Mind-Set to Adaptive Posterror Adjustments. Psychological Science, 0956797611419520.

Nabb, K., Hofacker, E. B., and Ernie, K. T. (2018). 5 Practices in Mathematics Teaching. Mathematics Teacher, vol 3, no. 5. 366-373.

Richardson, Will (2019).  Inspecting for Signs of Decay. Modern Learners via Soundcloud.com.

Runco, Mark & Nemiro, Jill. (1994). Problem finding and problem solving: Problem finding, creativity, and giftedness. Roeper Review. 16. 235-241. 10.1080/02783199409553588. 

6 Words to Define Me

I am taking a course with the PLP Network called “Educational Leadership in the Digital Age.” I have been through a year-long program with PLP, and I have gained so much in the way I approach my own learning and that of my students. Though I am an educator who very much enjoys the opportunity to inspire my students, the PLP program (called the Connected Learner Experience) I participated in sent my excitement for teaching into overdrive. The PLP program strives to give educators new tools to develop themselves as learners first, encouraging us to rethink our own job descriptions. Rather than become a knowledge delivery service, we search for ways to inspire our students to do more with their knowledge and abilities. As Will Richardson, a founding member of the program, says: “It’s not about what you know, but about what you do with what you know." If your school is looking for a way to take educators into the next century as connected learners, I highly suggest this program.

But now that I have marketed the heck out of the PLP program (you’re welcome), I want to speak about what I am learning right now. After just one week, the instructor has me stretching my way of thinking so that I can mold my leadership position to be one of constant learning. As a new administrator, I come to my role with many ideas, and wonderful models to reference as I build a community and empower the faculty with whom I will work. But there is a bigger, greater mission. I want everyone in the building I direct to want to do more. I want them to do greater things than they imagined. I believe it can be done. Here is a "6-Word Story” I created to describe my thought:

image

Yes, so the sentence is hijacked from the recent reboot of Star Trek. The admiral tells James Kirk, then just a farm boy from Iowa, that his father saved countless individuals in the few moments he was a ship’s captain (prior to that ship being destroyed). He dares Kirk to do better than his father.

The image is one of the Battleship Texas and the San Jacinto monument, surrounded in a mist of low fog. I saw this picture, and I thought about science meeting engineering, about the known world and what potentially lies behind the fog. I see the strength of man rising above the unknown in a tower to overlook the world around her. This picture tells the story of how we built great things to overcome that which we do not know. We had to do more with the little we understood to open the next door.

As educators, we must inspire others (namely our students) to do more. But I think there is more to this. I think we need our students to know that we have NO IDEA what this challenge entails. In other words, I feel like we need to empower our students to search for what “better” really is…for each one of them. Our job as educators is not to provide them with knowledge, but discover what to do with this knowledge. We need to grant them the gift of self-discovery and possibility.

I dare you to do better.

TPACK example from my classroom

As I build my curriculum at the micro-level (in other words, in building one lesson), I am starting to pay very close attention to how I can use the TPACK model in my curriculum development. As an outcome to this effort, I have built a self-guided, team-exploring effort for students to follow in my math classroom surrounding percents, decimals, and fractions. While this concept doesn’t exist in class everyday, I think that this project gets pretty close:

On many days the students come into the classroom, open an iPad to find the lesson presented for the day on Prezi. The presentation guides them through a number of “I wonder” questions at the beginning of the lesson. These questions (which they must complete as a team and turn in a report on them before moving on) focus on concepts with which I want the students to enter the lesson. I want them to leave this slide with their brains ready for the new material.

The next slides are all about exploration. Sometimes this exploration is results in a basic try these problems as a team concept; however, I often try to find ways to continue the “I wonder” idea about the lesson, either using some directed instruction followed by questions about that instruction (it’s up the students to invest in the questions).

Another piece of the lesson (to finish unpacking the concept), is an online discussion that the students can initiate in class and must continue in the afternoon via comment.

As a reflective note, I have found that “free-reign” for research and learning is difficult to manage and supervise. So a guided wondering is the goal! I have created discussions via Schoology to increase intra-class communication after school lets out. It works pretty well!

My next area of development is to have the students begin to blog about their experiences and to communicate with other classrooms about what they have learned. Any suggestions or invitations would be greatly appreciated!

Should you be interested in how I build these Prezi “zooms”, here is the link to one I created last week:

http://prezi.com/5fb8qfpxd1ps/71-fractions-decimals-and-percents/?k…

Happy zooming!

TPACK in my classroom

I was pleasantly surprised to listen to a discussion in a recent PLP webinar about a learning framework that I had not encountered before, but one which I have immediately adopted and will continue to use in my classroom. The framework uses the acronym TPACK, and it is a progressive system of learning…but one that utilizes traditional components so as not to “reinvent the wheel.” The structure describes a way to develop individual lessons and overall scope of a course with regard to the pedagogy, content, and technology. These three foci are woven together to form the Technological, Pedagogical, and Content Knowledge Framework (TPACK).

Ok, I confess that I have fallen in love with this model. It is exactly the structure I strive to follow in my classroom. I see a wonderful, creative opportunity for any educator to improve his or her classroom with the adoption of TPACK. In many cases, I would think that the dynamic teacher already uses the model in his or her curriculum prior to learning about the structure of TPACK. With this model as a guide, I can remain more accountable to the proper development of my classroom lessons based on the goals explained by the TPACK program. I believe in this framework and will work to support it’s dissemination and usage in schools.

The concepts driven home by the TPACK framework have educators finding ways to recognize how they teach the material utilizing new technologies and connectivity tools (tpack.org). With hints of the Grant Wiggins Backwards Design approach to curriculum development, TPACK has teachers thinking about the “walk away concepts” a student should gain upon leaving the classroom for the day, for the grading period, or even the school year. However, the focus of learning remains in the exploration of the material, not just what to teach or with what sort of tool. So teachers may have great technology and may have a wonderfully rich curriculum full of great concepts; but the fancy gizmos and cool concepts would simply wash away without a method ofconnecting these “tech tools” with the content that is presented during a class period and beyond. The connection between technology and content holds together via the pedagogical approach implemented by the teacher. The proper fusing of these three components facilitates a special kind of teaching that allows students to follow a unique, inquiry ­based path that may lead them in various directions only to arrive at the overarching goal set by the instructor.

As said earlier, the activities I bring into my classroom often fall into the TPACK model. My classroom has developed very well as a 1:1 environment, with every child having an iPad on his or her desk each day. I remember this past summer having a conversation with Will Richardson and his warning about the use of technology: “Never use technology for technology’s sake; technology is a support or enhancement too FIRST, and a novelty or toy long after.” I cannot agree more, and to this day I have tried to find ways to present material that can be enhanced by the technology available in the classroom. The good news is that I have come a long way developing a curriculum that supports this big idea and maximizes the learning potential. The “not as good news” is that I have a long way to go before I feel like I have build a classroom full of “connected learners.”

In my next post, I will explore some of my lessons that I feel have demonstrated the TPACK model. I would love to share ideas regarding the construction of TPACK curricula, and I look forward to the dialogue.