The Reflective Educator

Education ∪ Math ∪ Technology

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Month: November 2010 (page 1 of 3)

All children have talents

This is a video that was shared with me of an autistic child I know singing. He doesn’t have as large a vocabulary yet compared to other children his age but he listens to a lot of music and loves it. I’ve listened to a few children sing at this age, and while most of them have better pronunciation of what they are saying, few of them have tonality yet in their singing.


I’m amazed by the progress this little guy has made in the last year. The woman he is living with is doing an awesome job with him, and I’m constantly grateful for her involvement in his life. She has found a gift he has and based on what I saw a year ago, I didn’t think that would happen.

I really believe now that every child has a talent for something, and that it is our job as educators to find these talents. We need to expose children to experiences in life which will help them uncover their talent.

Clickers in the classroom

My school recently purchased two class sets of clickers which have already started seeing use in the classroom, mostly with teachers who were part of the trial last year. My thought? They will probably change how I teach as the amount of authentic feedback I can get back from students can be greatly increased, especially as I find ways of making the questions I ask through clickers more effective.

Here’s a presentation I just found which describes what clickers are, and then gives some potential uses.

I’ve noticed some issues with using clickers that I should point out.

  1. Students need to learn how to use them. This doesn’t take too long, but expect some occasional gaming of the system and inappropriate responses if you allow for text responses.
  2. You need to take more time to prepare your lessons with the use of the clickers in mind. You have to establish questions ahead of time as the on-the-fly questions really can be difficult to ask in advance. One way to counteract this is to have a stock question you can go back to which is blank and you fill in the question itself on the spot, either orally or by writing it on the board.
  3. It takes students more time to answer the questions you pose via a clicker than when you ask them to raise their hands. Given that you get more honest answers and a greater level of participation, this delay is probably worth it, but you will notice it in your lesson plans.
  4. It is tempting to just keep going with the clickers in a lesson and lose some of the valuable inquiry time in lessons, but remember that they are a shallow form of participation and interactivity. Use them sparingly and when you want to find student misconceptions, rather than a way to facilitate pure lecture style teaching.

If you want to read some of the research on clickers, check out this study. There are I’m sure lots of studies out there that discuss the use of clickers, this one was just convenient to find. If you have other research you’d like to share, please do so in the comment section and we can all look at it.

For whom are Interactive Whiteboards Interactive?

I get asked a fair bit, are interactive whiteboards (IWB) a worthwhile investment for schools? The answer I have to say, is no. To follow my reasoning, first ask the question for whom are they interactive?

They seem like they are interactive for teachers. They give the teacher the opportunity to interact with material and to demonstrate materials for students in a more engaging way than the traditional white board. This is provided that the teacher has the time to develop the materials in advance for the students, or the time to find said resources that have been shared by other teachers. It is also provided that the teachers have been given some training on how to use the IWB as very few teachers will experiment and figure out the full potential use on their own.

This is a false interaction though since given that the teacher has invested the time and training into developing the materials themselves, they are not interacting, they are intraactive instead. The teacher is reacting to their own creation, rather than something new created by someone else which we could really call interactive.

If we allow students to use the IWB a real problem is suddenly you’ve turned a parallel activity (as in an activity in which all of the students are doing something) into a series activity (each student takes a turn doing something). Changing parallel activities into series activities is inherently inefficient and in the classroom, inefficiencies lead to kids who are not engaged, who do not have something to do. The activity will be interactive, but only for the small number of students who are actually engaged in using the IWB.

So don’t spend your money on IWB for your school. Spend it on individual devices for the student, or a class set of video cameras, or some other device which is really interactive. Spend it on staff training in the use of technology for all of your teachers. Spend it on anything which will introduce real interactivity into your classrooms.


Update: There are students who have a variety of different issues with fine motor skills and one large advantage of interactive whiteboards for these students is that they can actually manipulate mathematical objects and even type whereas pencil and paper or laptops may not be useful for them. When the technology is being used for the purpose it is designed (as an interactive surface) then I think my objections above do not apply.


If you think you know something, you should quit

I just watched @Nardwuar at #TEDxVancouver. He is amazing, and I can’t believe I had never heard of him before. What an inspiration!

Nardwuar is a citizen journalist who interviews music stars and politicians. He has a couple of suggestions for life which he shared which I think are excellent advice.

  1. Just ask. Don’t be afraid to ask because the worst thing that can happen is that you can be rejected.
  2. Do your research in advance and find ways to be creative.
  3. You will learn something in every thing you do. If you think you know everything, it’s time to quit.
  4. Be curious

I think this is good advice for our students too.

I’ve got him hooked on science

I did two very simple experiments with my four year old son yesterday. Actually, I set up the experiments, showed him how to do them, and let him run them.

The first experiment was the classic mixing of baking soda and vinegar. I gave him three bowls, one with baking soda, one with vinegar, and a 3rd empty bowl to mix the two. I also gave him two spoons so he could move the baking soda and vinegar into the mixing bowl. I showed him how to mix two small amounts together and watched him giggle as it fizzed. I then walked away and told him to experiment with it, and went to do some dishes. I kind of watched him out of the corner of my eye and noticed that he did the predictable, which was to mix more and more of each of the ingredients, trying to make more bubbles and fizzy sound. Lesson learned? Mix more stuff together and you get a bigger chemical reaction. All I did was give him the language to describe what he was watching, he did the rest.

The second experiment I took 2 different sized salts and some more baking soda and 3 bowls of water. We mixed each bowl of water with the dry ingredients and stirred the bowls. My son was amazed as the baking soda, "disappeared." We stirred and stirred and then the regular salt "disappeared." After much more stirring, we finally got the coarse salt to disappear. We talked about what happened, and my son tasted the water (oops! I told him that he should ask me next time if it is safe to taste our experiments) and said, "Daddy, it’s so salty!"  Lesson learned? Stuff that "disappears" in water doesn’t actually "go away" it dissolves into the water.

We also played with a couple of other simple ideas, like filling up an upside down bowl with water without it pouring it out. We also figured out which makes ice melt faster, warm or cold water.

Basically my son did the work, and I set up the experiments. At the end of our 45 minutes or so playing around with the experiments, he still wasn’t done. He wanted more experiments. I couldn’t think of any more examples off the top of my head, so we sat down and I Googled some more experiments and we decided together on some experiments that we want to run.

Today I watched as my son stacked more and more cookies underneath his fork during dinner. When I asked him what he was doing, he said, "I’m doing an experiment Daddy!"

I’ve got him hooked.

Jose had 100% attendance

I had a student, let’s call him Jose, who had 100% attendance all the way through school. He attended almost all of his classes, he participated in class discussions, he did everything he could to understand and learn what we were teaching. Jose worked very hard, at least during class, and always made sure to turn in his homework. He was a nice kid. He was very polite and was well respected by his peers. He graduated, a feat only matched by about 35% of the freshmen with whom he started high school.

The problem was, Jose was illiterate and we all knew it. He struggled to complete even the most basic of sentences in his writing and couldn’t read the side of a cereal box. However Jose managed to meet the requirements for graduation because of a few simple things he had learned.

  1. Always do your homework, even if you have no idea how to complete it. It’s okay, teachers are grading for effort anyway.
  2. Never cheat. It makes teachers mad at you and people are mad at you are less likely to pass you.
  3. Come to class and ask questions and try your best all the time. Your participation mark will be excellent!
  4. You can take your Regent’s exams (NY state exams) multiple times.
  5. A 65% is the official passing percentage (at least in NY) but no one fails with a 60%.
  6. 20% for participation and 20% for homework is 40% leaving the final 20% to come from assessments in class, or 20/60 (which is close to 33%).
  7. You can get 33% on tests if you fill in everything with whatever you know and guess for the multiple choice, with a little bit of luck.

I don’t think Jose ever got more than 65% for anything he turned in, or for any of his classes. He met the minimum requirements which, honestly in the school I was in, were not that stringent. He failed some of his classes, but because of our credit system, he could easily retake classes, even multiple times, and still graduate in four years.

We failed Jose though because he left high school completely unprepared for the real world. We had certainly not given him any skills he could use because our school focused on "getting students to pass the Regent’s exams". He didn’t learn enough academic skills to continue his studies, although he did attempt University, at least for a semester and yes there were universities which accepted him, thanks to open enrollment.

Jose came to school and wanted to learn. He really respected teachers and did everything he knew how to do to be successful. He was a model student in every way, except he struggled with the written word. There is something seriously wrong with a system which lets a student like Jose graduate unprepared for life. 

I don’t have any answers for this problem but I do know that Jose would have been far more successful if we had not accepted the absolute minimum from him. We needed to set higher standards and then provide him with additional support to meet those higher standards. We needed to invest more in Jose’s future rather than just passing him onto the next person.

Need help with a student project

Hi all,

I need help with a student project. I have a student who wants to look at the relationship between how fast someone is going, and the time it takes them to stop on a long board (a type of skateboard).
It’s pretty easy for you, just share the following link with your students:
And ask your students to complete the information. If you want an example of what this looks like, check out the following video.

How can we use social media as a tool?

Article directed at our school’s parent population, reposted with permission from my school’s monthly magazine, The Imprint


Twitter banner

Twitter is what is known as a micro-blogging site and social media tool. The idea is that each person that signs up has the ability to post short messages of no more than 140 characters to the service, either through a web browser, a special program, or directly by sending text messages to the service. Some people have used the service to publish inane updates about their breakfasts and other uninteresting things, but increasingly it is being used by professionals who want to connect with other people in their field.

Twitter has become a real-time human-driven search engine. The results that are posted are primarily the result of real people deciding what information is relevant and what information is irrelevant. Unlike Google, the information posted is not ranked by popularity, but instead it is all carefully chronologically arranged. As well, many mobile phones today can receive updates from Twitter directly, turning it into a mobile search tool.

If you want to know more about the Twitter service and how it works, check out this video by Common Craft called “Twitter in Plain English”:

I’ve been using Twitter for a little over two years now and it has transformed the way I gather information and resources. I use it as a filter on the Internet that helps deliver the most relevant and most useful resources to my fingertips. I’ve learned that I can make Twitter useful by being selective about what I share.
Twitter followers

Currently, I have 3392 people I am “following” on Twitter and 3102 people who are “following” me. This is my personal network on Twitter. How the system works is that I only view updates from the people that I am following, and updates I post get sent to the people that are following me. I follow educators from around the world, and most of the people who are following me are, themselves, educators.

When I post updates to Twitter, I talk about useful things I’ve found. I don’t talk about what’s going on in my life, I talk about issues that are relevant to my career. As a result, people consider me a reliable source of information on educational technology, assessment, mathematics education, and other areas in which I have expertise.

Think of the people I’m following as my personal team of research assistants, who filter through the Internet and post relevant information for me to find. On the other hand, when I post a question, I generally get multiple responses. Think of the people that are following me as an army of educators, who collectively can answer any question I pose to them.

I also use Twitter as a direct communication tool with other Twitter educators. There are a large number of Twitter users that I connect with on a regular basis, and every week we have a discussion about issues in education using the #edchat hashtag. You can check out what #edchat is by checking out this website:

Teachers all over the world have started using Twitter as a major source of information about their profession. I very rarely have to do my own Google searches anymore, I rely on the fact that the educators in my personal network are willing to share. This tool can be incredibly powerful and can transform your own search habits, provided it is leveraged effectively.


Voices for Reform

If you don’t have time to blog about reform, just add your voice to the Voicethread below and answer a simple question:

What do YOU think should be done about reform.

(original photo by Aussiegall)

Reform Through Action

Footprint From SpaceToday I participated in an event which was held simultaneously held in 16 other cities around the world organized by and the Vancouver Public Space Network

On a very cold day in Vancouver, we headed to David Lam park and stood around a field holding green umbrellas. We arrived early in the morning and draped green across our umbrellas and held them up in the air. Our objective was to focus attention on climate change and participate in a community building activity.

My son was a little trouper for most of the event, but eventually we went to a nearby coffee shop, grabbed a hot chocolate to fortify ourselves, and then came back to the field just in time to be photographed from space and from an airplane.

Human beings are capable of organizing themselves into such intricate and amazing patterns. This particular project was dealing with climate change, which is a serious issue for our planet. The reform over how we utilize resources on our planet is under way and although it has not made enough of an impact to slow climate change, already there are many things that we do differently because of it.

Similarly our entire education system is a such an amazing machine when you look at all of its pieces. So many different people have to cooperate to make our education system run.

There is something fundamentally wrong with the machine though because it is no longer functioning as it should. The machine was built for a very different world than the one in which we live. Just like we need to change how we consume everything our planet has to offer, we need to change how we educate our youth. The changes that are needed for either problem are not small, they will require wholesale rethinking of our resource and education systems. We need to rebuild our machines.

The problem is that both of these machines have a tremendous amount of inertia behind them. Most people who are bound by these systems can’t see a different way of doing business. Worse, even those who have the ability to step outside the box and visualize these problems from a different perspective cannot agree on what that perspective should be. We are trapped by our inertia and it will only be through great effort and quite possibly sacrifice that we will solve either of these problems.

We must solve these problems. It is not acceptable that we continue to plunder our planet the way that we are whether or not you believe that we are causing great damage to our climate. It is similarly not acceptable that our schools are not preparing our students properly for life. The machines of education and resource management do not require some grease or some minor fixes to start working again. Both of them need to be rebuilt completely.

Thankfully, there is hope. So many people came together today to support a climate change awareness initiative and so many continue to work on solving this important problem. Similarly there are so many educators now who are aware of the issues we are having in education, and who are working to try and affect changes in their schools. The only question will be, will we be able to make the changes we need before both systems collapse completely?