The Reflective Educator

Education ∪ Math ∪ Technology

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Month: August 2011 (page 4 of 4)

What do we need algebra for?

Thanks to the @OpenCulture blog, I got to listen to a very interesting interview with Keith Devlin. Keith argues that kids need algebraic reasoning, and arithmetic, to a point. He doesn’t say kids need to be able to do pencil and paper algebra, in fact, he has a very interesting argument for using spreadsheets more often in schools. Listen here:

What would you suggest?

I received this email through my Vancouver Public library account. With permission, I’m sharing this you here, so I can try and find some resources for this teacher. I’ve tried to remove information which could identify this person, since they would prefer it that way.

Good Morning, I read your list of resources for special education. I am from ***********, ********, and this is my first year teaching special ed after finishing my Masters Degree. I teach 16-18 year old boys who have committed assault and sexual assault crimes, served jail sentences or received parole, and are now in a residential facility as part of their parole or probation agreement. The high school I teach in is actually PART of the facility they are in and I am employed by that facility as a teacher. I teach [some math and history courses] though I can and have taught other subjects as well. The young men I teach are often angry, violent, and can(and do) blow up at the least provocation, making threats, yelling, or even hitting teachers, other students, or other staff. We have a lot of students who were in gangs, students who have severe post traumatic stress disorder, etc. The reason I emailed you is because I am looking for some resources from another special education teacher, educational or otherwise, that can help me teach these young men or otherwise work with them. I am wondering if you have any ideas. Thank you! *******

I emailed the teacher back, and gave her my personal email address, and she sent me this additional information.

…I guess my biggest problem with teaching these guys is that I am … small … with no military, police, or other background. I was a preschool teacher … before getting my Masters Degree and taking this job. I do feel that this is what I want to do the rest of my life and have felt like this after pretty much a few weeks on the job. I am good at building rapport with these guys. However, rapport only takes you so far as far as these guys are concerned, since they get angry and violent anyways. We’ve had broken windows, desks thrown across rooms, someone who had to have a skin graft when hair was ripped out of their head after being dragged by the hair, a student attacking another student in the cafeteria and kicking them in the head, seriously injuring them, etc. Every week brings something new. The offending student is usually punished by being confined to his room on the unit for a number of days(if its not too serious) or being sent to jail for anywhere from overnight to several weeks. Sooner or later, even if you have good rapport, you’ll have to administer a serious consequence that they don’t like or help with a restraint and then the rapport is gone. We have students that actually hate to the point of despising certain teachers, assistants, or unit staff. For me, it’s hard to know what to do in which circumstances or if I’m pushing too hard on someone or not hard enough and letting them get away with stuff.

The teacher sent me some other information about the school, and how they manage their students. It sounds like an incredibly difficult experience, and not something I’m very familiar with. The level of violence I had to cope with when I worked in NYC was nothing like what this person is describing.

What resources would you suggest this person look at? So far, I’ve suggested they check out #spedchat, and they’ve looked at a list I created on the VPL called "Education must reads." 

Math in the real world: Relationships

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

5 generations of women

Image credit: mvplante

There is a lot of different types of mathematics in family relationships.

For example, each generation you go back, the number of ancestors you have increases exponentially. This works, of course, since we all have a lot of overlap on our ancestors, and eventually everyone is related to just one person, a woman named Eve who lived in Africa many years ago.

You can also look at the probability of relationships forming, based either on interest, or on type of friendship building activity in which you participate. When we want to form relationships, we tend to participate in high probability activities, like drinking with friends at a club, or discussing books during a book club. My friend noted that the probability of a couple forming strong relationships with other couples where they have similar interests, everyone gets along with each other, and each member of the couple has a compatible schedule is actually rather low.

Disfunctional family

If you look at the relationships of the families themselves, you can draw graphs of the relationships where the circles in the picture above represent people, and the lines between the circles represent the relationships between the people. Would you say that this is a functional family, or not?

Good leaders, bad leaders

I’ve worked in 4 different schools in my 9 years as a teacher, but under 18 different administrators. Yes, that’s two different administrators per year, on average.

Some of those administrators have been good, some of them have been bad. Some of them have inspired me, some of them have only inspired fear. Some of them have helped move the school forward, and some of them have been incompetent.

A general trend I’ve noticed is that the good leaders know how to help teachers implement good ideas, and how to politely point out the flaws in bad ideas. The good leaders have trusted teachers as professionals and have never acted from a position of authority, but instead from a position of moral leadership. The good leaders have focused on the question, what is best for the children, rather than what will make me look the best. Good leaders develop leadership and actively encourage it.

The bad leaders have squashed ideas, failed to follow through on their promises, and acted without reason. They have shown up 8 months late for meetings and tried to set the agenda for a group, and disciplined teachers for dropping pencils. Bad leaders treat attempts at leadership from their subordinates as challenges, rather than opportunities. The bad leaders have enacted policies that will not work, have been proven not to work, because they apparently lacked the imagination or the drive to do better.

Bad leadership can be disastrous for a school, whereas with good leaders, you are often unaware of their presence, everything just works.

I know this post isn’t so much about technology leadership so much as just leadership, however, good leaders encourage innovation, and bad leaders have no idea what innovation looks like.

Build capacity in schools

I highly recommend finding an hour and watching this video (Thanks to @KenMLibby for sharing it). In it, Dr. Pedro Noguera shares some examples of effective ways we could change schools and speaks out against the ineffective reforms that have been enacted in the US for decades.

Note that much of what Dr. Noguera suggests could be implemented in the high poverty schools in Canada just as easily as the US. I don’t think we have as much difficulty with highly scripted instruction here in Canada, thankfully, but we do have a huge child poverty problem, and it behoves us to look at ways we can help our children as much as we can.

My first semester teaching

I just reread a story I wrote on here about my first semester teaching and thought I would share it again. The story is broken into 9 parts, and I hope to continue it. I’d really like to make sure I remember more of what happened in NYC, since the experience was such a life-altering one for me.

"My first semester teaching"

I’d love to read more people’s experiences of their first semester teaching as well, and compare notes.

Prisons, fighter jets, or investing in education?

First, watch this video (thanks to Blair Miller for sharing it with me) and decide whether you agree with its premise.

A Bird’s Eye View of Child Poverty in BC from s j on Vimeo.

Now ask yourself, are we doing enough in BC to reduce child poverty? What else could we be doing?

I live in a part of Vancouver where I see poverty every day. I’m only a few blocks from the downtown East side, and from the place in our city where the worst poverty makes itself evident, Main and Hastings. Whenever I walk through, or drive through, that part of town, I  see hundreds of people whose lives are obviously difficult, and who struggle each day with addiction, and finding enough to eat and drink. One thing I wonder now is, where are their children?

The children of the people living in the slums of Vancouver should not be held accountable for any poor decisions of their parents, but as a society, we shame them everyday. They are shamed at school by their peers, where bullying of people who are poor is rampant. They are shamed when they are excluded from participating in the events that happen in our society. We treat them poorly in so many ways, when they already experience so much grief in their own lives. Eventually, they will grow up, and many of them will take the places of their parents on the streets. In fact, because of the strong cyclical nature of poverty, one could argue that the people who end up in poverty later in life are not there because of they made poor choices… but instead of poor choices made by society at large.

If we recognize that the poor children today will likely become the poor adults of tomorrow, shouldn’t we do everything in our power to prevent this from happening? Whether or not you agree that this is a moral issue, and one which our society is, in general, handling very poorly, you must recognize that the economic consequences for our society are enormous. For example, my mother worked as a paramedic in Vancouver for a while, and she always said that 90% of her calls when she worked downtown were from people with repeat health problems caused by the side-effects of poverty. If we are willing to spend so much money cleaning up the problem, why aren’t we willing to spend more preventing it from happening in the first place?

Education is supposed to be a way out of poverty, but instead of investing heavily in education, our country is building more prisons and fighter jets. We have our priorities completely wrong as a society. Instead of electing people who would slash education funding in an effort to reduce taxes, we should be looking for politicians who will invest in education, and invest in the social programs which are proven to reduce the effects of child poverty.

Critical learning tool, or flashy extra?

This article was originally written for our school’s Imprint magazine, and is reprinted with permission.

The role of technology in education is a fairly contentious issue these days in most schools. There are those that believe that technology is a necessary add-on to the classroom; that teachers and students both need to keep up to date on the most current technologies so that students have marketable skills when they leave school. Others believe that technology should be kept strictly out of schools; that the old ways we learned in schools were “fine for us” and so should be fine for our students as well. There is yet another group that believes that educators and students should use the best tools available as part of their learning; and that in some cases, this means some sort of technology.

I personally tend to subscribe to the third point of view. I’m not a fan of just using technology because it helps prepare students. I think that we need to have a deeper reason to implement technology given the cost and time investment necessary to make any technology use worthwhile. I also think that our role is not necessarily to prepare students for jobs, but to prepare them for life, which takes more than simply knowing how to use a spreadsheet, or create a presentation.

There is a danger that we use technology simply because it is “flashier” than what we used to do. People who suggest that the primary reason to use technology is because it will “engage” the learner are I think missing the point of engagement. Real engagement comes from exposure to meaningful, relevant, and interesting ideas. Using ‘flashy’ technology is not engaging students, it is merely attracting their attention, much like light attracts a moth. The flashiness attracts the student’s attention, but once the novelty wears off, the attention is quickly lost. Engagement, on the other hand, is self-sustaining.

However, some technology allows us to learn about areas which would have been previously impossible, or impractical, without the technology. For example, being able to Skype chat to another classroom, or to a topic expert, opens a digital portal between two places. Skype technology allows for a type of communication previously impossible without the technology; real time ‘face to face’ conversations over tremendous distances.

This is part of the reason that our interactive white boards have seen limited use, and that our new Flip cameras have been booked out nearly every single day. The interactive white boards require a significant investment in time from teachers, and tend to promote a teacher-centred classroom with inexperienced use. The Flip cameras, on the other hand, allow students and teachers to do something not possible without their use. Students can now record, edit, and then examine videos they have created themselves.

In order to see a return on our investment in the interactive whiteboards, we are sending a few teachers who have volunteered to give up part of their summer to learn about how to use these devices effectively. In turn, they will share their new-found expertise with our staff, and we will be able to turn this “flashy” technology into something productive.

The most obvious piece of technology that we have introduced this year has been our one-to-one laptop program. While in some schools this would been implemented so that students could do research, write essays, and read textbooks, we have already been using the laptops for so much more. Students have been creating and editing multimedia, designing schools of the future in 3D, and using interactive geometry programs, for example, all of which have enhanced the students’ learning.

We will continue to focus on using technologies that are critical learning tools, rather than flashy add-ons. Your children deserve nothing less.

RSCON3 presentation online

I’m happy to report that the recording from my Reform Symposium presentation on Interactivity and Multimedia in Math is available to be downloaded here. Almost all of the recordings for the other presentations are up as well, which you can access here.

I’ve also uploaded my presentation slides here, so that you can download it and look at it yourself. Finally, if you are interested in further reading from my blog related to my topic, see these two links:

Update: Taking advice from @shamblesguru advice, I’ve converted my presentation, using a screen-casting program, into YouTube format.