The Reflective Educator

Education ∪ Math ∪ Technology

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Day: July 25, 2011

A practical way to reduce teacher burn-out: Say thank you

Dr. Adam Grant shares an easy way to reduce teacher burn-out. We need to help teachers realize the work they do makes a difference in the lives of their students. He shares a story about how a university call centre saw much reduced stress rates simply because they heard the five minute story of a university student who benefited (with a scholarship) from their work. I recommend watching his Ted talk from TEDxPhiladelphiaEd.

The quiet revolution in education

(Clay Shirky: How social media can make history)

While education reformers like Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, Bill Gates, and others will tell you that education is stuck in the status quo, right underneath their noses there is a quiet revolution occurring in education.

The revolution is happening through social media. Every day thousands of hours are spent by educators, even during the summer, to improve their personal practice through discussion and sharing of resources. Every day more and more educators are joining the fray, choosing to sign up for social media sites (like Twitter) so that they can become part of the conversation on education reform. While the number of educators not yet sharing their ideas dwarfs the number sharing, those that are sharing are vocal about the benefits that they are getting and inviting their colleagues daily to join them.

There are probably 50,000 educators using Twitter alone, and if each of these teachers posts just 1 average length tweet a day, that’s about 500,000 words written each day on education by people in the trenches. If each teacher on Twitter reads just 10 tweets a day, that would mean that more than 5,000,000 words about education are read each day via Twitter (The actual numbers are likely to be much higher than these conservative estimates).

Outside of Twitter, educators are connecting through Classroom 2.0, Future of Education, and literally thousands of other Nings and professional development sites. There are almost certainly thousands upon thousands of conversations between educators, about education, happening on Facebook every day as well.

Educators are doing much in the non-digital world to connect as well. Edcamps and Teachmeets, which are free professional development conferences, have sprung up all over the world. Educators are organizing TEDx conferences, like TEDxUBC, TEDxDenverEd, and TEDxPhillyEd, to name just a few (I attended all three of these).

This is all done outside of the more traditional professional development avenues, and it is having an impact on education. Teachers are flipping their classrooms, engaging in education hackjams, discussing educational practices in massive weekly Edchats, presenting their innovative educational practices with thousands of other educators via online webinars, and much, much more.

Much of this quiet revolution is happening during times when educators would have traditionally been off work, during their summers, their breaks, and at their homes, challenging the idea that educators aren’t willing either to change, or to spend their own time doing it. Educators are not being paid to participate in the opportunities discussed above, nor are they being given much support.

Instead of blaming all of the current problems of education on educators, maybe it’s time to support the thousands of innovative educators out there taking matters into their own hands? None of the accountability systems in place, or being developed, accounts for the incredible professional sharing occurring globally in education today.

The grassroots efforts are a much more effective way to introduce systemic change than top-down efforts ever will be since peer pressure is always stronger than authorative pressure.

Math in the real world: Trees

This is another post in a series I’m doing on math in the real world.

 

The growth of trees is actually a fairly mathematical process that at least involves fractal theory, graph theory, and topology. You can actually generate very realistic looking trees using a computer. See the video below for an example of simulated tree growth.

Here’s an idea. Take your kids outside and find some trees (even bushes or ferns will do in a pinch). Explore (and catalog) what rules different trees seem to follow as they branch. See if you can follow those same rules with pencil and paper to produce tree-like drawings. For bonus points, take some pictures of some younger trees, and use your rules to predict where the next branches will start, then follow up in a year to see if you were right.

Kevin Slavin: How algorithms shape our world

Kevin makes some great points in this TED talk, and his talk certainly speaks to the need to teach an understanding of how algorithms work. In my opinion it is important to teach the study of algorithms explicitly, rather than implicitly through just memorizing them. We should focus more on how algorithms are used and why they work. What if kids learned how to create their own algorithms?