Teachers talk too much. Even though I am aware of that, I still find myself speaking more than I should in the classroom. I think that I am better than I was 20-something years ago when I first started teaching – but I definitely want to improve in this area. The great Simon Sinek (author, consultant, and motivational speaker) gives advice about this in the attached video. Even though Sinek is speaking in a business context, many top educators like Jo Boaler would certainly agree that teachers should be included in the group of leaders who would benefit from this following this guideline. Instead of complaining that our students are too lazy to problem-solve, we need to ask ourselves how often we actually give them the opportunity to do their own thinking.
“We Love Maps” was the most recent theme for the bi-annual Barbara Petchenik Children’s Map Competition. The contest is open to entries from children all over the world who are 15 years old or younger, and it really is amazing to see the creativity displayed in the wide range of winners chosen by judges at the International Cartographic Association’s annual meeting this month. You really must click through the gallery of pictures to appreciate the artistry of these children, as well as the messages they chose to convey with their renderings. Special shout-out to Champ Turner, from Austin, TX, for having his map chosen for the “Public Award” with the most votes. With 34 different countries participating, it’s nice to see a winner from my home state! To learn more about the competition (which only happens every 2 years, unfortunately!), click here.
When it comes to math and mindset, there are two #eduheroes I refer to on a regular basis: Dr. Jo Boaler, who is a professor at Stanford and the genius behind the YouCubed website, and Alice Keeler, who many know to be a Google wizard but also has a published book called, Teaching Math with Google Apps: 50 G Suite Activities. You can imagine my excitement, then, when I learned that they would be presenting a session together at ISTE. (Dr. Boaler joined us through Google Hangouts).
Dr. Boaler wrote the book, Mathematical Mindsets. Not surprisingly, it includes a foreword by Carol Dweck, the leading expert on growth and fixed mindsets. Dr. Boaler’s main points are that we need to value the different ways that people see math and have more class discussions about math – rather than repetitive questions on worksheets. According to her research, people become proficient in mathematics when their brains have the opportunity to make connections between visual and numerical representations – not because they are born “math people.” The least effective way to teach math is through lecture, while the most effective is with Project and Problem Based Learning.
Both Boaler and Keeler agree that we need to dispel the myth that those who can do math quickly are better thinkers than those who reason through problems. In fact, Boaler says, “I’m unimpressed that you worked through it quickly because that tells me that you are not thinking deeply.”
Another controversial topic we all agree on – homework. Recent studies have shown that assigning elementary students homework is ineffective. Boaler and Keeler (and I agree) both believe that this is true for all ages, particularly when the homework is a worksheet of repetitive practice. A better way to think about math is to do an activity like the one below, where students think about one problem in multiple ways.
When an audience member asked about the problem of spending time on conversing about math when there is a scope and sequence to follow, both Keeler and Boaler expressed the feeling that it is actually a waste of time to “plow through” topics despite lack of understanding. In Boaler’s words, “Pacing guides are the worst evil in education.” Amen!
Keeler shared several “Googlized” adaptations of activities from Boaler’s Week of Inspirational Math, including a nice Slides template for the Four 4’s challenge which includes links to individual slides for students to explain their work. You can find links to more of Keeler’s templates in her presentation here.
Overall, I was so energized by this session that I was tripping over my words when I debriefed with my colleagues that evening. I had stayed later just to attend this session, and it was definitely worth my time. Thank you, Alice Keeler and Jo Boaler!
I want to close this post by helping Alice Keeler to honor her book’s co-author, Diana Herrington, a passionate math teacher who recently passed. You can read more about Diana and her influence on Alice Keeler here. One of many great quotes from Diana Herrington on Twitter collected by Alice Keeler is, ““I teach students not math.”
As pretty much anyone who attends an ISTE conference will tell you, one of the most important features of the entire event is the connections that you make. With the explosion of social media many educators have been able to find like-minded colleagues around the globe through Twitter chats, Facebook Posts, or blogging. But when 20,000 of these people convene in a single city, these bonds can be strengthened as we get to meet each other in-person.
Two of the people I was fortunate to meet up with this week happen to be 2/3 of the storymamas team, Kim and Ashley. These two, along with their friend Courtney, are the women behind the storymamas blog, a site dedicated to sharing book recommendations for children. The three all have elementary school experience, and coincidentally they each have 2 children. (Did you have the second one three months ago, Kim, just to even things out?) As soon as I met Kim and Ashley, I knew that we all shared the same passion for reading and education, which definitely makes this an ISTE connection worth celebrating. If I could just get them in the same room with my Twitter/Blog pal, Joelle Trayers, I think we might become a new alternative source of energy 😉
What is great about storymamas (besides the cool people who created it) is that the blog is a great resource for busy teachers and mothers who are looking for new children’s literature. Now that my daughter is a teenager and stubbornly choosing to decide her own reading materials, I don’t find myself in the children’s book section very often. It’s nice to have another place to get ideas for books to use with my younger grade levels. I also like that they include author interviews on the blog with 3 questions about the story and 3 questions about the author.
So, want great new book ideas and insights into what makes writers tick? Check out storymamas. You can also find them on Twitter and Instagram at @storymamas, #storymamasbookaday & #authorsaturday
For today’s ISTE post, I thought I would cover a couple of the sessions I attended that were related to coding and makered.
Leah LaCrosse (@llacrosse) and Jon Jarc (@trendingedtech) spoke about the ways they have used the design process with their classes as the students worked with digital modeling for 3d printers. They included a great diagram from nngroup.com that my colleague and I like because it uses arrows to show that the design process is often not linear, with many steps repeating. We are also hoping to, as they have, find more “problems” that students can try to solve with design thinking. (They gave an example of 3d printing a piece for the school’s long-broken water fountain.)
An interesting suggestion for introducing 3d modeling to students was to have them begin by making something fairly simple with Legos, and to then ask them to duplicate the design using a program like Tinkercad. One workflow tip is to have a Google Form for students to enter the links to their print files to put them in a queue (after they have been critiqued) for the 3d printer.
The 3d printing project that really caught my attention was one in which the students designed vehicles that had to fit the following parameters: multiple parts, multiple colors, no glue, and able to roll across a table. As Jarc described it, this project took nearly an entire semester, but the students were taking precise measurements, iterating repeatedly as they learned more from mistakes, and putting their own creative spins on the designs – making this a deep learning activity that they will never forget. Another fun idea? Fitting the vehicles on top of Spheros to propel them across the room!
Another makered session I attended was sponsored by Microsoft. I know very little about the hardware featured on their “Make Code” website, so I was curious to learn more about at least one of the pieces, the Adafruit Circuit Playground Express. This little kit is actual hardware that you can connect to your computer with a usb cord, and use block coding or java script to program. Even if you don’t have the physical hardware (only $24.95, but it seems to be out of stock), you can use the simulator on the site to code this fun product to do all sorts of things – such as play sounds and light up. Here is some advice on getting started. I had to leave the session early, so I missed out on the awesome magic wands they were making once everyone programmed their Circuit Playgrounds. However, I loved some of the features of the website – including that you can easily transition between block coding and java, the site can be used on practically any device (though you do need USB for the hardware), and you can even use it offline. As you can see from the pictures below, there are lots of things you can do with the Circuit Playground. Since it has a battery pack, you can program it and “wear” it without being wired to the computer.
Of course, these two sessions were only a small sample of all of the makered possibilities showcased at ISTE this year. It’s amazing to recall the years when makered was relatively new to the incredible impact it is having on educational technology now!
Infosys Foundation has been asking people to share why they make, and including some of their responses on their site. There are also three videos from famous makers (Nick Offerman, Noah Bushnell, and Adam Savage) who explain why they believe it is essential for human beings to create. My favorite video comes from Adam Savage, The Mythbuster, in which he says, “I make because in making I’m telling a story.” As I watch my students in robot camp this week, I get to witness their delight in making – whether it is making programs, designing robot costumes, recording crazy robot sounds, or fastening bits and pieces together to make their robot props. And I get to feel the same indescribable joy when I create the curriculum that activates these busy makers.
Jackie Gerstein offers even more reasons for making in her recent post about her “Cardboard Creations Maker Education Camp,” reminding us that making things does not have to involve expensive tools and technology. The key elements are imagination and a willingness to accept messiness – literally and figuratively – as we go through several iterations to make our ideas into reality.
Whatever our motivation for making, it cannot be denied that most of us feel compelled to do it, and feel accomplished when we succeed. That is why it is so important for educators to teach our students how to heed their inner desires to create, to persevere through those guaranteed botched attempts, and to make it a quest to improve without becoming bogged down by self-flagellation.
Even though a makerspace isn’t needed in order to encourage students to make, here is a “Makerspace Essentials” list of articles I’ve published in the past about making.
Yesterday’s post, “The Trailblazer,” reminded me of an article I wrote awhile ago called, “Tell Your Students to Get Lost.” Both essays carry the message that it is important to give our students opportunities to find their own ways. Every time I see an innovation, I think to myself, “Now that person understood that we don’t always have to do things the same way.”
One of the readers of yesterday’s post made a good point, however. How can we allow students to blaze their own trails while still ensuring they comply with non-negotiable rules?
For example, I realized I had created my own monster this year by making it very clear that I wanted my students to do their own problem-solving attempts before coming to me. One day, when I needed everyone to learn some tricky maneuvers for logging in to a web site they would be using, chaos ensued. After I told them the first step, they decided to figure out the rest on their own – leading 10 different students to 10 different illogical pages and a quicksand of links that would never take them to the right destination.
And so I learned that, just like life, we need to know when to be adventurous and when to be compliant. What I needed to teach my students was how to determine the difference.
Now I try to verbally model the inner dialogues that I hope my students will eventually develop as habit.
“Is this a time I can be creative, or do I need to do the exact steps my teacher is giving me?”
“Can I use the loopholes in this task to do something unusual, or do I need to honor the intention of the assignment?”
Just as I imagine Angelique’s trail guide taught important safety rules and basic riding techniques, we teachers need to gently release our students to blaze their own trails as they adhere to certain behavior expectations and learning standards.
I am not advocating complete student anarchy just as I don’t advocate for complete student compliance. However, I think many teachers rely on the “nose-to-tail” type of journey a large percentage of the time. I think our schools would better serve our students by preparing them for and allowing them to go off the beaten path – while teaching them to recognize the occasions when it’s better to pay attention to your guide.