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First things first:  A thanks to the team from edcampSWO 2012!

The event would never have taken place without the dedicated efforts of:

@shannonhazel, teacher GECDSB

@mraspinall, teacher LKDSB

@globeandtims, teacher WECDSB

@TOBluejay12, administrator GECDSB

@CCHBiology, teacher WECDSB

@mrwideen, teacher GECDSB

@mrswideen, teacher GECDSB

Thanks also too:

@knightchris, consultant GECDSB

@sadone, administrator / consultant WECDSB

N.Fegahli, teacher GECDSB

The Students from Catholic Central Highschool (for being our welcome, sign in and video crew!)

These individuals came through huge in order to secure sponsors, get t-shirts made, take care of food, troubleshoot technology, create websites and SM and generate ticket sales.  They did all of this splendidly in order to pull off the first event of its kind at the University of Windsor, Faculty of Education.  It is rather interesting to note that all of our plans were done through google+, hangout, email, twitter DMs, texts and one 45 minute f2f meeting.  Preparations begin on the car ride home from edcampDetroit in May and ended the morning of October 13, 2012.  Amazing times we live in!

Preparing for an edcamp is scary.  As I stated the morning of the event; you make all the plans, secure the venue, pump out your message via SM/Blogs and then pray people will show up.  And that is not the end of it.  After you have 80+ educators in the room you then start to pray, even beg, for folks to sign up on the matrix board to facilitate a conversation, evoke a question or present and share some valued information.  Prayers were answered (thanks Chad and Ian) as we had 65% of our ticket takers show up, 15 % send regrets and 20% no shows.  As for #2, because of the participant driven Professional Learning, we offered  21 sessions: 10 conversations and 11 presentations.

Our session matrix had 21 options!

The University of Windsor, Faculty of Education, and specifically Dean Clinton Beckford and Dr. Finney Cherian were our gracious hosts on the day of the event.  The University provided the space, the custodial staff and free WiFi for the day to edcampSWO.  Without this location the day would never have run so smoothly.  Hosting an edcamp at the Faculty of Education brought with it an inherent feeling of professionalism and eliminated any chance that the locale would determine specific board dominance.  We came together to learn and we learned differently on Saturday.  We learned with autonomy by offering, selecting and participating in learning that we determined we needed based on our reflections and dialogue.  As a result educators left with new ideas, action steps and most likely something new to try with kids on Monday!  Most also left with plans to hit #edcampDetroit in May!

Thanks to all participants that came and stepped up to the plate.  We look forward to hearing about your work with students as a result of your learning at edcampSWO!

We had a great day.  While reflecting on the learning at the Rock Bottom afterglow we secured two more edcampSWO leaders!  We also guaranteed that there will be an edcampSWO 2013.

I have a call to make to Dean Beckford first thing tomorrow morning!

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“Critical consciousness, they say, is anarchic. Others add that critical consciousness may lead to disorder. Some, however, confess: Why deny it? I was afraid of freedom. I am no longer afraid.” Paulo Freire

Last February myself and six teachers (Jr, Int) attended a local highschool PL session on Critical Thinking in the classroom. Garfield Gini-Newman is a Senior Consultant for The Critical Thinking Consortium, TC2, and an adjunct professor at OISE in Toronto, Ontario. While originally challenged by the space to learn in and the seating arrangement I slowly appreciated the value of sitting with 70 other professionals in a fishbowl in the welcome corridor of the high school. Students walked past and watched us listening, talking and learning from behind the glass.

Our reason for entering the room was laid in evidence from 8 years of performance on the grade 6 EQAO assessments (limited level 4 performances), results from our Stretch your Thinking questions of 2010-2012 and most importantly the professional opinions and anecdotal evidence of our expert teachers around students’ abilities with critical thinking. The perception: our students, en masse, have not been able to access level 4 performance tasks. The tasks that largely involve critical analysis, critical thinking and higher order problem solving. We decided as a group that this may not be because our students simply cannot present and perform this way but rather (and more introspectively) that we are not preparing lessons and activities that allow for students to illustrate or possibly access this level of thinking and thus practise the process. We asked the question: Are we using Critical Thinking as a framework for our learning activities?

We came prepared to be critical of ourselves. Each teacher brought with them a lesson or activity that we wanted to “Tweak and Fortify” (Gini-Newmans’s mantra for Critical Thinking prep). Garfield uses the “problematize the content” method to make learning happen in the classroom. He juxtaposes the “correctional method” and the “problematization method.” One stifles learning and thinking and the other instigates it. He calls this whole process “Additive Teaching.”

We began with a picture of Burnaby BC in 1942 and were asked to decide the month, day, and time of day from the evidence we had. We were left with the question, Why should you or should you not give the students the answer to the question posed? Many answers revolved around stopping the thinking, not highlighting the process, undermining the learning and talk, creating winners and losers.

Before coming to today’s event the teachers were sent a form in Google Docs asking questions about student performance, engagement and thinking. Questions also were asked of teacher learning need. Teachers were asked to watch an embedded YouTube clip of Garfield and were asked: Do you want/need more of this learning? The results were clear. We needed to attend the workshop.

Garfield stated a number of times this day, you can do this in your classroom tomorrow. The most practical of his ideas: Stop having students copy from the board or take notes and instead throw four statements on the board and ask them, “Which one of these statements is true and which ones are false?”

One of the watershed quotes Newman threw up on the screen was a poem from T.S.Elliot in 1933 in which he stated: “Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” He specifically was referencing the role google, apps, iPhones and the lot have played in the classrooms and learning work of the 21st C teacher and student. With the knowledge that the answer is “out there”, instead of inside your head, he challenged all educators in the room to start framing problems and content differently. He challenged each of us to reframe our roles. Of specific practical interest was his work on a PBL matrix. My grade 5/6 teachers used this work to create the framework for a unit on Ancient Civ. the very next week! Garfield provided a 7 step process for designing critical challenges:
1.critique the piece
2.judge the piece
3. Rework the piece
4. Decode the puzzle
5. Design to specs
6. Perform to specs

(One example used was that students not only chose the most important items to carry into the woods with them but them they must rank order them. All this is done on a sea of talk–critical talk)

Garfield started to scare some people when he suggested flipping Bloom’s Taxonomy on its head. “What if we flipped on end the foundations for teaching and learning and made invitations to create products of value or solving meaningful problems the foundations of learning for all children?” He called this being a “little bit provocative.” Newman also juxtaposed Critical Thinking and Inquiry Based Teaching. His goal is to bring these two things together in the classroom and call it Critical Inquiry. As we discussed this process I was drawn to think about and reflect on the work of my Early Years teachers currently. Critical Inquiry is alive and well with 4 and 5 year olds when an adult knows how to probe with questions.

There were strong connections to my teachers’ current work on Visible Learning stemming from the work of John Hattie. Problem Solving teaching only has positive learning effects when students are taught the skills they need to arrive at an answer. He continued to develop these ideas by showing us his Engagement Taxonomy. Garfield asked us to consider: To what degree are the students: Empowered? Challenged? Entertained? On task? Are they asked to be actively involved? Are they required to use a high degree of concentration and committed to the process of learning? All of these questions were digested and discussed at table groups.

The Critical Thinking classroom involves a Community of Thinkers, Critical Challenges and the Teaching and Assessing of Intellectual tools. These tools include: background knowledge, criteria for judgement, critical thinking vocabulary, thinking strategies and habits of mind. This, in essence, is the TC2 Model of Critical Thinking.

Garfield was certain to share his website that houses many free Critical Thinking resources. http://www.tc2.ca is the home of the Thinking Teacher. Also included is the electronic source book. This work stems from Garfield’s work with the Alberta department of Education in which he problematized the social studies curriculum. Thoughtful Books is another resource that highlights mentor texts to engage the learners in thinking critically. Tools for thought requires a subscription in order to use ready made resources for specific topics. Again the lessons are created to build critical thinking skills. The teachers that subscribe to the service can add content from their experience. There is a cost to this material. (Sounds somewhat like the work of Ian Jukes with the 5 Fluencies, http://www.fluency21.com/, if you have not already you need to become a “Commited Sardine!”)

As days and months passed I came across this picture, that was shared on twitter, a couple weeks ago. It reminded me of Garfield’s opener and his critical thinking work. How might you use it?

Garfield’s work brings into question our roles as teachers. He challenges us to look more critically at our own processes. He asks us to “unfreeze” our current systems and free the students thinking. Releasing responsibility is always hard. It is definitely needed in classrooms. Let’s let our children think by provoking them with problems to resolve rather than providing them with answers to remember.

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How many times have you heard “Research shows that…”

I saw my first “Back to School” commercial yesterday (July 26) and the How Soon is Too Soon question popped in my mind. Here in SWOntario we don’t start school until September 4th. I digress.

This ad claims that “laboratory tests, over the last few years,” have shown that babies fit in better during those awkward pre-teen and teen years after drinking cola.

Hmmmm…..my math isn’t that bad.

Be careful when you quote, listen to, claim and read research that might strengthen your point. Read critically, question, seek further resources and by golly make sure the math adds up. When it does it makes a world of difference. When the math doesn’t add up we lose the trust we are building in the public education system. As Douglas Reeves says “It makes us all look bad.”

Do you still:

  • have spelling tests?
  • “do” calendar?
  • work in isolation?
  • say “they mark too easy” when referring to colleagues whose students excel?
  • give a student a grade a week later, a month later, never?
  • think a grade is feedback?
  • ban handheld devices in your classroom?
  • show movies on the SmartBoard?
  • believe social media is a fad?
  • believe the best learning environment is a quiet one?
  • demand (parents) or give worksheets (plural) for homework?
  • say “respect must be earned?”
  • use the sentence “the problem with kids these days…”
  • blame the teacher, the administrator, the parents, the students, the school district or rock and roll music…etc.

Now, do you know what the research says about these practises? Does it align with your thinking or challenge your thinking?

It is time to learn something new. Step out of the comfort zone and into the learning zone, the risk zone. Take a learning stance. Find new research. Heck, develop your own research out of an inquiry.

This school year, abandon a practise that you are hearing questioned more and more. Replace it with something new, something different, something from a colleague or even “scarier” a colleague’s blog! Something that makes the kids say…”What has gotten into Mr. Cowper?!? This guy wants us to Tweet our learning? OMG He has changed! He is CRAZEE!”

Yup…there it is. The magic word. Change. Do you believe they used to allow ads like the one above in magazines? They also used to smoke on airplanes, have back seats, with no seatbelts, the size of Montana, give children bottles of ink and a fountain pen? My gosh…the Principal used to use a strap to teach learnin’!

“They” is actually we. We have segregated our schools, isolated our most vulnerable students away from schools, assimilated the culture out of our students and myriads of other draconian practises that kept us from being true learning institutions. Institutions with a culture where the most important learning was about ourselves, about our interconnectedness with the earth with each other (our kids) and about learning.

This year connect. Research shows that, good or bad, the greatest and most impactful aspect of a student’s life (no matter the grade) is their teacher. Connect with them. Learn with them. Know them.

And have fun doing it. (I know Ms Rotundi, I am never supposed to start a sentence, let alone a paragraph, with a grammatical conjunction.)

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Well I did it.  I started a Facebook page for my public school.  I don’t know whether this is a planned social experiment on my part or a new way of sending out morning announcements.  One thing is for sure though, the kids dig it! 

Here are the logistics so far.

  1. To follow the school facebook page you must send a request.  The school does not ask to be your “friend.”
  2. The school does not engage in conversations or chats.
  3. The school only sends out information that the public community would find helpful.
  4. Currently there are 27 members.  There are many suggestions of course but the school is waiting for those contacts to request access.

This is what I have noticed.  Simply by being “in the room” the content of the conversations has changed slightly;  Kinda like when the Principal is at the basketball game and everything simmers down a notch.  I think that almost every student past grade 5 may have an account.  Is it possible for the school to send information out to this “Student Learning Network” and be more effective than morning announcements?  I think it is!  I have been talking to every class about their digital footprint and their online citizenship.  Facebook is a great place for me to continue the messages.  I am very careful however.  I do not want to scare my followers off with corny messages of a kinder, gentler school and a thousand points of light like I am tempted and apt to do.  The power to use this medium for positive cultural and behavioural changes is evident.   I will continue to be very careful.

There is more to come on this front but for now I thought it necessary to mention my foray into the realm.  I have been holding out for some time.

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If you have not explored the world of Geocaching with kids….you are missing out on a great literacy / numeracy / cultural experience.  This is an all in one lesson folks.  All you need is curiousity, a GPS unit and a few kids and adults…and you will discover hidden treasure all over the world!  “It’s not nerdy its actually cool and you have to be smart!”

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