Inspiration Against a Lost Generation

 

This video serves two purposes. First, it is a creative way to communicate a profound and inspiring message for everyone, by juxtaposing opposing tones via a literary twist — a winding and unwinding technique common to folktales. Second, it is a reminder to me, and perhaps to many of you, that this is what my generation felt and talked about when we were in high school and graduating. I find the echo of my thoughts juxtaposed against this video nearly a quarter of a century later rather interesting.

There are so many parallels, some of which we recognize right away, some of which we forget until we are reminded.

For some reason, this video reminded me of my generation’s movement to curb pollution and yet the nearly simultaneous increase in vehicle turn-over and layers of packaging around otherwise small items. Today, our kids and students are still moving to curb pollution, though with a narrower scope — less, if any, emphasis on all the forms of pollution, including light, noise and odor pollution, and more emphasis on pollution that perpetuates and aggravates global warming. There is much happening in the World that they have little notion and control of, as was true for us. However, as we became more pollution, waste and recycling conscious and active, I wonder what their generation will accomplish.

What parallels do you see between the priorities and ideas of your students and those you had when you were their age?

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Thinking… Please Wait

 

Hi. It has been a month since I last posted, but I accomplished a lot during that time. And I am very happy I did. I feel like I progressed quite a bit since I last posted.

This is great since I experienced debilitating writer’s block with some of the key posts I have been struggling to publish, and this pretty much stalled me. It happens I guess. I had all these things I wanted to do and I wasn’t advancing.

Thank goodness I had another blog and other professional resources to work on.

Last month I took a rest from Digital Substitute so I could catch up on some much neglected projects that I was just raring to work on. In one of my early posts, Math Lab: Revisiting Technology and Imagination, I exclaimed how liberating it was to take a single day off from blogging, tweeting, PD and other professional activities to just play, and I think the post that resulted was one of my favourites to write, and perhaps my second most popular.

I find most of my posts, and certainly my best ones, result from some emotional or playful encounter. So, I consider the sacrifice of one month worthwhile to recharge myself.

Wandering in the Land of Set-aside

So last month I worked on several fronts.

Teaching Resources

I editted my Teaching Resources site, including adding:

  1. notes I wrote, and links to online archives, from several of my recent PD sessions to my Professional Development Index,
  2. resources, and a Slideshare Pak Liam created in response to these pages, to my Green Pea Analogy pages,
  3. focussing questions and points to my Phronesis page, and
  4. a math term etymology document that apparently was very well received given the tweets and requests for links to it on Twitter.

Writing in Play

I also did a lot of writing this month, something that has sadly been long waiting, including the completion of a short story based on a Figment Theme Prompt and working on a chapter in one of my long stories. I participated in Figment Theme Prompts, doing a little writing each day. And I posted to my Stefras’ Bridge blog. Altogether, a great month of accomplishment for my writing.

Stefras’ Bridge

I blogged about another of my hobbies, oil painting, and linked to one of my essays describing the history and folklore behind the earliest form of Mardi Gras. And I posted my first review and interview — with Malyn Mawby.

The Write Group

I also created a new Twitter account for the Write Group, to which I am migrating my English and writing tweeps and adding tweeps specifically for the Write Group. And I continued to work on our wiki, gathering RSS feeds and bookmarks relevant to our group. It doesn’t look like much now, but wait until I get things up and running!

Flickr, Videos and Coding

Finally, I added some photos to my Flickr photostream, I am working on two cartoon videos for Pi Day — there has got to be a better way to do this than drawing all these pictures … but boy does it look neat (for my first true “movie” videos) — and I am refreshing my coding skills with Code Year.

 

How did I get so busy?

I think I work in there somewhere.

Thinking … please wait.

One Year of Tweets

There are conversations that are so inciting that you are impelled by every muscle in your body to jump in and join. You join to learn more. You join to connect. You join to share and to contribute to the shape of the conversations.

 

 

Twitter can be absolutely anemic, devoid of any purpose or reason or even care for the presence of others.

 

 

But it can also be a maelstrom of issues and opinions, of arguments and discussions, of thoughts, of questions and suggestions, and of links and videos and images.

It can transform the very way you think and teach and learn. It can network you with colleagues and people of similar interest around the world. It can organize meetings both virtual and actual. It can rally movements and ideas. And it can make us better people.

 

 

How I began

One year ago last Friday I joined Twitter and tweeted my first tweet.

I don’t remember the content of that tweet. I lurked for about only ten minutes, then I leapt, eager to wet my feet, when a conversation that peaked my interest came along. My induction into Twitter began with conversation.

I joined Twitter because as a substitute teacher more than anything else I felt that I needed to relate more to my students. Since most of them spent much of their lives texting and instant messaging, I felt that social media was a good way to close at least some of the technological gap between my students and me.

 

 

Previously, I had been an ecologist. I spent most of my time outdoors, in a lab, in an office or in front of a university lab or classroom. Social media had not taken off yet. Internet Relay Chat, e-mails and websites existed, but Twitter, blogs, YouTube, Flickr, RSS and all the many many cloud and Web 2.0 applications were not yet developed or popular. Then came a twelve-year gap during which I dealt with severe health issues and I lost all connection with technology.

You can imagine my shock when I returned!

Building a PLN and developing professionally

Fortunately for me, George and Alec Couros offered a Using Social Media for Transformative Teaching & Learning webinar series at just the right time.

I was able to jump into social media with some support and guidance, so avoiding the shock many teachers who don’t get that support experience.

 

 

This is where Twitter surprised me. I joined expecting that anemic activity that most people not having sampled Twitter imagine. What I found could not be more opposite.

Twitter is professionally and personally empowering when used purposefully. It can help you:

  • connect, engage and network with like-minded people,
  • share what you know,
  • learn about professional and collaborative opportunities and resources,
  • learn from others, and
  • enhance your teaching, learning and thinking toolkits.

Its greatest benefit is building a personal learning network or community (PLN or PLC) and developing professionally (PD) with these colleagues. It is all about the networking and collaboration.

Teachers interconnect around the world to discuss issues, ask questions and help each other become better teachers.

When used correctly, it is an exemplar of professional development.

 

 

What I accomplished

But it doesn’t stop at tweets.

Along my journey this past year, I discovered uses of Twitter that further professional development and networking.

  • One of the first things I discovered were links in tweets to resources, courses, tools, and people who are experts in teaching and content areas.
  • I also discovered colleagues and experts who use Twitter through mentions, retweets, replies, and discussions.
  • From these I built a community of people I follow, most of whom are teachers, but many of whom are scientists, writers, artists, technology experts and other people of interest.
  • And in turn, as my tweets became more helpful to others, I gained followers.
  • I collaborated with many people on mutual or individual projects.
  • I accessed the perspectives and knowledge of colleagues through tweets, blogs, posts, comments, paper.lis, mashups, RSS feeds, Diigo or Delicious indices, images, videos, and media, all accessed through Twitter.
  • I built an identity, a brand or reputation, confidence in my relationships and opinions, and a staff — yes, it is a bit pompous to consider my PLC as a personal staff, but as a sub I lack one otherwise.
  • I welcomed those who are new to Twitter, paying forward what my PLN gives to me and looking forward to networking with new people.
  • I even connected with people who are just entertaining, such a Samuel Clemons, a ferret of all creatures who tweets just to entertain others. Such connections are important just to take a break.
  • And I developed a Twitter sense of humour that lightens some of my tweets.
  • I linked to formal professional development opportunities advertised in Twitter.
  • And I tweeted about myself and about beautiful things in the world to stretch beyond the professional and into a larger sphere.
  • But what I most value about Twitter are the impromptu and informal conversations and the formal and planned chats that I have participated in. Conversations and chats are where Twitter shines and professional development really happens. They are also what my students gain from texting and instant messaging. I regularly participate in #mathchat and, though I would like to do the same with #engchat, #scichat, #globio and #edchat, only occasionally participate in these.
  • I even informally hosted some sessions of #mathchat, suggested a few topics and just recently selected a popular one for discussion.

 

 

Small regrets

I encountered a few problems along my journey with Twitter.

  • I inadvertently insulted a few people for a short while, only later learning I had done so. This I suppose is a trap common to all social endeavours.
  • I stated things that were interpreted completely differently than I intended, only having to clarify my meaning with more than 140 characters.
  • I have even recently run into Twitter’s 2000 or 1.1% follower threshold, which I calculated I can never make up as more people I want to follow follow me. To this end, I have weeded out people I follow who no longer tweet, who do not fit into my matured PLN or who tweet only occasionally or in irritating chains or spurts. Such pruning is a hard lesson to learn.

Ending the year

I may not remember the content of my first tweet, but my final tweet of my first year on Twitter was short and sweet. I tweeted one simple word.

Neat!

I did so in response to an unrelated context, but I think it encapsulates my experience this year with Twitter.

How I feel about this past year

Tweeting and lurking can be time-consuming. Let’s be honest. It takes time to build relationships, time to converse and chat, time to read or view or listen to others’ tweets and the resources they link to. Tweeting takes time. But any worthy professional development takes time. Any worthy professional development builds and grows. It gets richer, broader, deeper and more vital. But it takes time.

And it is time worth consuming.

In the end, it is our students who matter. In the end, all this tweeting and blogging and casting and photographing has to work with other things we do, including planning lessons and units, creating assignments, managing classes, assessing, coaching, caring, fretting and hoping, to help our students learn.

I have learned so much from my PLN that I am a better and more responsive teacher.

Would I recommend Twitter to other teachers?

You bet. Twitter rocks!

 

 

Engaging Kids: A Little Classroom Humour

 

 

There has been a recent rash of puns spreading around one of the schools I sub at. It has infected kids at all grade levels from 5 to 12. Of course, being called in to teach occasionally, I happened to walk into this contagious disease with no warning and no defence last Thursday and Friday.

My kids tried to infect me twice with puns on Thursday. Unfortunately, I was rather vaporous on that day, so I did not catch on to either attack and thwarted the jokes.

The Mistaken Challenge

The first attack came from my Science 9 students. I can not remember the pun and ruined the joke anyway. The students grudgingly revealed what they were trying to get me to say (without getting in trouble). I remember being glad I didn’t. My guess now is that the pun must have been inappropriate to school anyway.

(At this point, I should confess that I am a stickler when it comes to swearing or inappropriate topics from my kids. This deters my kids for about 15 seconds after I warn them not to engage in such behaviour. Then the fun begins: trying to find ways to tease Mr. Urban. This particular pun was their latest effort.)

Still, my kids were unaware that I hadn’t caught on. I am sure they have taken my sidestepping of the pun as a challenge, so I expect more cunning attempts to get me to break one of my own rules.

These kids just crack me up. They are so eager and clever. And for the most part, when I ask them to, they willingly engage in the learning activity at hand.

There is always room to play and enjoy class. My kids like joking with me; I am easy enough to let them bait me, yet usually wise enough to get out of their traps.

 

 

The Unintended Lesson

The second attack came from my Grade 12 math students. My Grade 12s were a little more cautious with their pun, choosing one that was barely offensive.

But, again, I did not catch on. And how spectacular the result.

I have watched these kids grow up from Grade 7 and am absolutely fascinated at how mature and confident they have become. I can’t tell you how awed and full of pride of them I am. So, yes, I was targeted again.

The pun was simple. My kids asked me “what is that under there?” and I was supposed to reply “under where?”

I did not.

Being obtuse

 

Really, it never occurred to me to even ask that. Over there were cabinets and shelves sitting without gap on the floor and a well raised table clearly with nothing under it.

I was supervising a probability quiz and wrote it myself along with them. (Probability, permutation and combination just confuse me. I can not make heads nor tails out of them. The quiz had a few sporting coin questions in it by the way.)

So I was thinking mathematically, systematically and about test question quality. I ended up pitching against the ambiguity of vague questions with my kids, particularly the one they were asking me, and they in turn kept trying rather desperately to get me to ask that magical pun-question. Dialogues of the obtuse are so amusing.

It all ended up in laughter and teacher-student bonding that would never have happened had I clued into the pun at any time.

One boy grinned that the joke turned out better than my kids had planned. A girl told me that I really got her thinking about clarity and definitions. Everyone, including me, ended the day with renewed energy and a smile.

Yeah, I was thick on Thursday. I normally take questions and comments at face value. I rarely look for ways to make this or that perverse by some lateral interpretation. I am eager to help.

And I love the way I am, and my kids. They can fool me any time they want, so long of course that doing so does not interfere with their learning activity.

I feel much closer today to these two classes of students, particularly the Grade 12s, as a result of this jocularity.

A little humour in the classroom is engaging and builds strong bonds. I am ecstatic that I subbed these kids on Thursday. A lot was won.

 

 

Math Begins With an Answer?

We all hear it; we all say it. Students want the answers; teachers want the learning. But now, it seems students might also begin with, and not just want, the answer, or maybe they ignore everything but the answer, despite our effort to encourage and facilitate learning.

I am in the middle of reading Nat Banting‘s post Measuring Roots. He makes one statement in this post that I wish to address (indeed, my response below is cross-posted as a comment on his post).

I found this statement so profound, I had to stop reading the post and respond to it.

Nat’s statement is here:

For students, no matter how young, math begins with an answer.

Here is my response:

I stopped reading this post as soon as I read the point that, for students, math begins with an answer. (Don’t worry, I plan to read the rest of the post. But I needed to respond to this; it is so mind-blowing.)

I learned under Dr. David Pimm of Open University (UK) and the University of Alberta (CAN) during my Diploma in Math Education studies. He argues that math begins with a question; in fact, it does not exist until a question is asked. All the demonstrating and lecturing about math in the world does not involve math until a mathematical question is asked.

This discrepancy is very revealing. It tells us what math is and what math education is. Most students learn to expect math questions and problems to be short, quick, to the point, solvable and structured around “clean” answers (often related in some way to integer components). They anticipate the answers before they anticipate the questions. I am not sure if they even consider the math, and if they consider the questions mathematical, or mathematically.

I wonder what they are really learning? Is it math? What to them is math? Is this why so many students are so disconnected with math and why they are proud to have failed it and ashamed to have aced it? After all, from their perspective, if answers they anticipate before math, what have they aced?

I think we have done students a great disservice if they ace math in elementary, secondary and even tertiary school without ever actually learning that math is all about the question, the quest and struggle to tackle it and the discovery of pattern that possibly limits to (an) answer(s). They completely miss the point and the empowering strength of math process and pattern. And in the end they really have nothing to use in their lives beyond the “math” lesson.

So, why do they need to learn this? That question makes so much sense now.

I shall now return to your post.

Further Reflection

It is easy to lose sight of our students’ understanding of what we teach. Sure, we anticipate their individual problems and our scaffolding of these problems. We tailor our lessons to help each student. We ask leading questions or offer leading hints to open the door for them to learn. But then we learn that they have a completely different fundamental take on what we are teaching (and how) and what they are learning (and how). Sometimes these takes are so fundamental in fact that we can not even conceive them, never mind address them.

And this is where professionally developing with our PLNs really helps us to grow, to learn, to better ourselves.

Sometimes what we think makes sense only makes sense because we think about it within a certain frame and from a certain premise. David Hewitt would consider this generated, rather than necessary, knowledge. Until the moment I read Nat’s statement, I thought that students shared the same fundamental sense I did; that is, I thought this sense was necessary and common. They might want the answer and to skip the learning, but they start learning when a question is considered and asked, regardless of who asks it and whether it is internal or external. Thinking, in short, starts with a question.

All it takes is one statement, simple to others, even the author, to change our view of what we are doing forever.

Are we teaching our kids that thinking starts with an answer? That an answer even always exists? Do our kids think backward from us — speculating an answer then working through, rather than on, the question and its “solution” until they match their guess or verify no match? Are we teaching them the wrong way, literally?

The way we teach (think) now, we solve problems. Do our students anticipate solutions and then test them, like a computer batch tests scenarios or a player navigates a game? These are very different ways of learning, teaching and thinking. Much skill and strategy is lost by exchanging deliberate problem consideration and solving or playing for rapid testing of many outcome and solution (scenario) possibilities. In a very real sense, problem solving is deductive, while answer testing is inductive. New skills and strategies are needed to solve problems this way. And new methods of teaching need to be added to our portfolios and lessons.

What do you think? Do students start learning by considering an answer or a question first? Are we teaching them the “right” way? Should we teach both directions, or are their still more directions, more senses, we need to consider?

Any thoughts on Nat’s claim and its implications?

I am seriously considering that there is some truth in his statement. Perhaps kids approach learning inductively and deductively. Perhaps some kids approach learning one way under certain circumstances, the other under others, and different kids apply different strategies or strategy mixes differently.

Either way, is there a premise change here?

When School Breaks and Learning Turns

Tuesday, June 28, is the last day of school for students in Alberta. They get two months off. Some will visit family, some will plunge into adventurous vacations, camps or clubs, some will relax at home.

 

 

At the same time, last Tuesday, June 21 (actually last Monday evening, June 20), was the six-month anniversary of my blog. It turned out differently than I imagined, both following a different route than I envisioned and having fewer entries than I planned.

(I think I will wait for the next Eve before Winter Solstice before I reflect on what I have learned through my blog.)

Today, I wish to address summer break.

 

 

Would I teach the same way during the Summer?

In particular, a question occurred to me as the end of the school year stealthily approached.

If a student came to me and asked for some tutoring this summer, how would I teach her (or him)?

  • Would I teach this student as I would in a classroom full of students, following the curriculum and lessons set for me in the middle of the school year?
  • Would I even follow the curriculum?
  • Or would I do something completely, utterly different (after all I would no longer be restricted to the curriculum or to a schedule or to another teacher’s plan)?

 

 

My ideal class

Which is more important — the content or the engagement?

Lately, in #mathchat we have been discussing student engagement and how to center math learning on the student.

I think the best thing I could do for any kid is enrich his experience of a subject by exciting her about it. The first thing any student needs to learn about any subject is what is fun about it and how it is used in the world.

Everything else follows after that.

So, what is my ideal class? It is a subject-club-style class. And if the "lessons" happen to cover the curriculum the student needs to learn, then the class would be truly empowering.

How would you teach if you were called this Summer?