The Reflective Educator

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Tag: educational practices

Many ways of learning how to ride a bike

When I learned how to ride a bicycle, I practiced with training wheels first because my parents thought that it would be too difficult for me to learn how to balance myself, steer, and pedal all at the same time. I eventually learned how to ride a bike without training wheels but it was challenging for me. 

With my son, we started him on a like-a-bike which would let him practice balancing on a bicycle (which some parents argued with us was the most difficult part of learning to ride a bike) before having to learn how to pedal. We then later gave him a bicycle with training wheels so he could practice pedalling separately from balancing himself but honestly, we didn’t find it helped much. When he finally had a standard bicycle, he still needed to learn how to pedal while keeping himself balanced.

I’m not sure either method is best. It probably depends on the kid which technique we should use. Maybe we should have just started our son on a regular bicycle.

 

So now look at mathematics education. Our goal is to have students think like mathematicians, and to know enough mathematics to be able to use it in their thinking. Is it entirely necessary that all of them learn it the same way? Can we find different ways to engage different students in the act of learning how to be a mathematician?

Two possible futures

The way I see it, there are two possible futures. In one possible future we will always have computers and electronic devices and students should learn how to use these devices. With the exception of certain skills we want to be automatic for students, they really should learn nothing that can be done by a computer faster and cheaper. No more graphing, algebra, differentiation, integration, etc… as these can all be done easily with a computer. There are other ways to teach students algorithms and logical thinking.

In the other possible future our world economy or environment collapses and we no longer have computers. In this future, none of what I’m teaching in school is going to help students anyway, so I might as well prepare for the first future where computers are always ubiquitous.

Reflection on Creating a District Podcast

This is essentially a summary of Ben Grey’s and Jeff Arnett’s session on podcasting from ASCD 2010.  Pretty useful session, I liked the summary of why students should be podcasting.

Podcasting is a great way to give a voice to your students.  Students are often connected digitally at home for most of the day, but "[w]hen they come to school they have to power down their devices" (Ben Grey, 2010, ASCD).  They come to school and shut themselves off because they do not have any motivation to learn in an environment that doesn’t respect their opinions.  Giving students a voice through podcasting, or really any other kind of media, will help them build a connection to your school and feel like they belong.  Students need ownership of the process for it to be authentic.

Another really important aspect that podcasting adds to your school is the element of audience.  When students create an assignment and give it to their teacher, they spend a lot of time and effort to create an artifact which is only going to be seen by an audience of one, this is very frustrating for students (Ben Grey, 2010, ASCD).  If you allow students to podcast their learning, suddenly they have potentially the whole world as their audience.  Imagine how a student feels if they learn that their work has been viewed by thousands of people!

It is incredibly easy to create a podcast today.  For a school, one can either use some free or cheap online services, or use your local web server to serve the podcast files.  The distribution of the podcast feeds can be done through iTunes.  There are many, many tutorials on how to create a podcast, so once you understand WHY podcasting is useful, getting started for yourself should be fairly easy.

The important part of the podcasting process is the process itself.  Although the end product should be polished and sound (or look in the case of video podcasting) professional, from a learning perspective what the students go through to create their podcasts is most important.  Podcasting involves outlining, processing, editing, reviewing, all of these are part of the writing process.  As students learn how to create high quality podcasts, they will see their personal literacy increase.  Instead of students being completely stuck at the writing stage of literacy, students can learn the other important literacy skills they need.

Podcasting allows your school to build a stronger and wider community.  Many initiatives today are talking about how important a school is within the context of the surrounding local community.  Having an entire community working on creating a podcast means that everyone is involved in the process, and everyone feels ownership for the material.  Although you might wonder if there is greater danger in allowing students to post information through podcasts, one needs to remember that students already have access to these tools! They already have the ability to post information to a wider community, it is much better that they learn how to do this responsibly through your school.

Consider setting up a podcast for your school today, and make sure that students have ownership of the process. You won’t regret the results.

Reflection on adult learning session

This morning I was not able to attend a session on using iPod touches in the classroom because it was cancelled, and then I missed an opportunity to learn more about Smartboards because the session was full.  I was upset but sat down and looked through the program and tried to find an alternative.  Finally I settled on a session about learning about how adults learn differently than children.

I ended up being glad I attended this session largely because I managed to find some relevance in it toward my expanded professional development role next year.  My reasoning for attending this session in the first place was that I could use some training in teaching adults.

Essentially what I learned that in terms of HOW you teach adults, pretty much the best practices that work with kids work with adults as well.  The presenter listed the top things that adults need to be able to learn properly, as she went through the list I recognized it as a list of things that work really well when teaching students. The big things on the list that I saw were that adult learners want to be comfortable when learning, may need learning accommodations, they have relevant outside experience, and that they need to be shown respect.

What I learned that was a reinforcement of something I knew, is that adults have much different motivation for being in your class or professional development session than do students.  For kids, they pretty much all have to be in your classroom for some reason and often lack much choice about which courses they take.  As a result, we spend a lot of time as educators trying to motivate students as to the relevance of our material.  While this is true to a lesser degree for adults, often even when they are forced into your session they have both extrinsic and intrinsic reasons for being in your class.

So the lesson is, focus on the way you teach, and not on the adult motivation to me, since you really lack control over motivation.  You can generally assume that the adults will participate and belong, as long as you focus on making the instruction appropriate.  You should differentiate your instruction, provide alternative assessments, be flexible, adjust your instruction for your differently abled learners, and all of the other things that we consider to be best practices in teaching.

Recreating the physical structure of a classroom

 

A typical classroom might look something like this.  The problem with this arrangement that I see is that almost no one actually works under this arrangement.  Why not?  It’s distracting! this is similar to the layout in a lot of teacher staff rooms, and it is my experience that very little work happens in the staff room when it is full.  There are too many people around and too many things to see and do.

Try this an experiment for your staff.  Have everyone bring work for an hour and sit in an arrangement like this.  Have someone sit outside the room and peek in through a window and keep track of how much individual work people do, and how often it looks like people are off task.  I’m willing to bet that you will see the same thing happen under these circumstances as what happens in our classrooms.  The teachers are going to start to chat with each other.  It’s human nature.

So where do teachers go to get work done?  Well if we are lucky we go to our own office, or we wait until we are alone after school, but for the most part, we do our important work independently from each other and without distractions.  We might to discuss stuff in small groups occasionally, or chat one on one, but for the most part, we work alone.  Once in a while we’ll join up and have a full group discussion with the entire staff, but rare is the school that does this more than once or twice a week.

So I propose a different arrangement.  Here’s a possible variation that might work.  The big difference here is, students have their own workspace. They can work in their small groups with a few students working in the middle section, possibly under the guidance of the teacher.  They have much fewer distractions available to them.

As well this system preserves what I think is the best structure for when someone needs to lecture, all of the students are facing in the direction of the presenter.  Of course in an ideal classroom the students are often presenting to each other and there’s nothing that stops this from happening, it just makes sure that the conversation is generally between presenter and the members of the class.  For when you want to have classroom discussions with the whole group, you might book a different room with a better structure (I’m thinking a gigantic U shape would be good, or a large elliptical table).

This may not be the ideal classroom structure but personally, I think that it’s time to rethink what a classroom looks like.  There should be no sacred cows in our reform of education.

Update:

What we need in schools is not one learning space or another, but more options, and more flexibility on how to use them.