Friday, November 30, 2007

Thowing Out the Box

Scott Meech blogged about his disappointment that he would not be presenting at ICE this February and questioned whether he needed to sell himself a little better. I was having the same feeling tonight upon learning that I will not be presenting at PETE&C this February after having been a presenter the past two years. I've been trying to think about the bigger picture- what it means for me, what it means to me. What I really hope for in the long run is the opportunity to connect with other educators and to pass on what I have learned which is why is feels so disappointing. David Warlick in a recent post also explained why he wants to do follow-up sessions to conference presentations. He said...
It’s through interactions with educators and education leaders that I learn, that I get my ideas tested, stretched, and refined.

At first impression, it feels ironic that the past six months have brought amazing people and possibilities into my world and brought about monumental change in the way I learn and find support. I, too, relish the opportunity to float ideas, to discuss possibilities, to sharpen my thinking. I know the difference in my perspective and understanding. I have experienced the powerful learning my network can collectively bring to a presentation. Perhaps the box is what I have been living in and have outgrown. Perhaps it is time to consider new avenues rather than what I expected or hoped for. Perhaps it is time to think outside of the box or better yet, throw out the box. The possibilities truly are endless.

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Saturday, November 24, 2007

Testing a Hook

I too wonder what is the hook to help educators, administrators, and parents understand our changing world and the impact it is having on schools, students, and learning. Jeff Utecht, in a recent post, refers us to George Siemens’connectivism blog which also always makes me really think. I find George's posts have an amazing ability to identify and explore ideas which have been nagging at me and which I have not yet resolved with any satisfaction. His critical analysis and questioning of the status quo pushes my thinking in new directions to consider new perspectives.

Jeff's post titled, "Shift happened, what's the hook?", was a response to one of George Siemens' posts on Digital natives and immigrants. Is there a difference in our students of today? Or is it our society that is different? How do we respond to it? How do we engage others in understanding it? Jeff wondered

So I’m left thinking; what’s the hook? What is it we tell educators, administrators, parents, school boards, and community members for the reason we need to shift the way we teach? They have been part of this social shift yet they don’t understand it, or refuse to see it. Out-sourcing is part of this shift, so is in-sourcing, so is innovation, and business. We all live in this shifted society but do we understand it? Do we understand what it means not only for us but for our children?

To me, understanding seems to be a key factor. How do we help people understand? During the past month, I have been exploring ways to help parents understand. My last blog post described a Parent Math Night my school held to help parents UNDERSTAND the district's commitment to developing stronger conceptual understandings of mathematical concepts. The evening was a success based on the parents' evaluation of the evening with all parents responding that they increased their understanding conceptual mathematics as a result of the evening activities.

Another attempt on my part was the creation of a wiki, the Learning Hub, for parents and students to use and explore topics related to our classroom studies. Essentially, my decision hinged on my idea that one way to help parents understand the changing face of our world and its impact was to engage them in tools that I was using with their children in my classroom.

I introduced students to the Learning Hub in class explaining it's purpose and encouraging them to share it with their parents. An email, informed parents of the new opportunity to be involved in their child's learning. Created as a protected wiki, parents also received invitations to join the wiki and to participate in a fun project at home with their child. The project was a simple science experiment which was designed by students following their participation in the Technospud O.R.E.O. project developed by Jennifer Wagner. Interestingly, even though a page on the wiki was connected to a classroom project and invited parents to participate in learning with their child, less than a handful of parents accepted the invitation to join and add the results of their experiment onto the wiki. Ok, so basically they weren't interested, were too busy to do the experiment with their child at home, or perhaps they were uncomfortable with the wiki format.

I was certainly hoping for a stronger response.

What to do next? Posting student work was my next strategy. I toyed with the idea of changing the wiki to a private status, which would require parents to join as members in order to have permission to see the contents of the wiki. But, that would not make them any more likely to participate in the wiki. And what I really envisioned was an opportunity for children to learn with their parents, and for parents to be in a position to learn from their children.

I crafted my next attempt following my students' work in creating digital stories for Chris Craft's Life'Round Here global collaborative project. The students had successfully created amazing videos sharing their focused personal passions and views of life where they live. (Another post lies in waiting to share more about their videos and learning gained from the project.) But, just posting the student videos was clearly not going to be enough to engage the parents. This time I decided to ask the parents to use the Discussion tab to reflect upon the students' video. In class, students were posting their own learning reflections to their blogs in Moodle. I promoted the LearningHub discussion tab as a parent homework assignment that provided an opportunity for parents to also reflect on the students' work. In an email I sent to the parents asking them to respond to the videos. I highlighted the power of receiving comments from a real audience which significantly increases student commitment to producing quality work. Our first responses from parents are beginning to appear with parents uniformly impressed with their children's ability to produce such quality videos and fascinated that the students have learned how to create them - and marveling over the change in what students can do today compared to their own experiences.

Slowly, but surely, parents have joined our LearningHub and begun to participate in the changing educational landscape.

What should be the next strategy to further hook our parents? Any suggestions?

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Monday, November 12, 2007

Making Math Connections

It's been a short and frenzied two weeks since parent conferences and the following early morning's decision to host a parent math night in response to parent's genuine questions about the new focus on conceptual understanding of mathematics. The questions emanated from a true desire to help their children and to feel that the education of their children is a partnership between parents and the school. The questions were many and varied.
          • What does my child do in math class?
          • Why isn't the homework the same?
          • Why is there so much writing in math class?
          • How can I help my child at home?
The answers and explanations can, at best, merely begin to address the larger philosophy of mathematics pedagogy and their child's progress within it during a short twenty minute conference. And so, three teachers and a principal quickly harnessed their energy and brainstormed the idea of holding a Parent Math Night- sooner rather than later. Checking school calendars, Tuesday, November 13 was selected. At an impromptu faculty meeting called at the end of that day, the rest of the teaching staff learned of the idea and were encouraged to become involved.

And did they ever become involved!

Twenty-two teachers,

volunteering to give their time,

share their knowledge,

and join in embracing parents as partners in the education of children.

The K-12 Math Supervisor and two math coaches were consulted. And a plan for the evening meeting was hatched. The focus would be to help parents to better understand the the NCTM Standards which were the basis for our newly revised mathematics curriculum. We would teach the parents math lessons, just as their children experienced them. Throughout the lessons, teachers would engage the parents in discussions of their problem solving strategies, alternate ways to represent the mathematical concept, and meaningful ways in which the concept interconnected with other mathematical concepts and with the real world. They would encourage them to communicate their ideas both orally and in writing, using mathematical language. We fully expect the parents to have an understanding of the concepts we teach to them, but want them to explore why the algorithm works the way it does. Teachers stepped up to the place, volunteering to lead and facilitate two lessons- teaching regrouping in addition (or subtraction) and the multiplication of fractions.

An article, "Tying It All Together" in the most recent NCTM publication, Teaching Children Mathematics offered the idea of using a simple four-part chart to record multiple representations of a concept. We revised the chart for our purpose and audience and planned to use it as a tool for parents to record their mathematical experiences from the evening. At an inservice a week ago, teachers were shown the video "Mathematics: What Are You Teaching My Child" with Marilyn Burns. Upon viewing it themselves, committee members were sure it was the perfect visual introduction for immersing parents in the world of their childen's math classes.

What else was needed?

A flyer inviting parents to the evening.
An offer of babysitting services.
Handouts to guide and record parents' thinking.
An evaluation form for the eveing.
Resources to show and share.
A parent's toolbox with ideas of how to help with math at home.

The agenda for the evening began to take shape.

Parent Math Night

Schedule for the Evening

7:00 Introductions –Principal Vincent School

7:05 Overview of Math - Supervisor of K-12 Mathematics

7:15 Video – Mathematics: What Are You Teaching My Child?

7:40 Move to Tables for Mathematics Lesson

Blue Dot Group - Regrouping Exploration

Red Dot Group - Multiplication of Fractions Exploration

7:55 Move to second Lesson Session

Blue Dot Group - Multiplication of Fractions Exploration

Red Dot Group - Regrouping Exploration

8:10 Reconvene as whole group for Review of experiences

8:20 How can you help?

8:25 Closing – Thank you for coming.
Please complete and turn in your evaluation form at the door.

I think we have a pretty awesome evening planned. What has been nagging at me is the fact that we will only reach an interested, yet small portion of our parent audience. What I really would like to see is a way to involve all the other parents at home.

Maybe I should UStream the whole evening.
What do you think?

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Saturday, November 03, 2007

Tapestry of Understanding

The K20 Online Conference has just barely closed but not ended. Many, I for one, have not yet had time to listen, view, and digest all of the presentations. But, David Warlick's keynote and Clarence Fisher's presentation still resonate for me.

Flickr Photo by andydr

"We are Inventing New Boundaries." David Warlick

"It is not about where you live anymore." Clarence Fisher

Our increasingly global world along with the proliferation of Web2.0 tools presents us with an opportunity we have never had before, perhaps never even dreamed about. The opportunity is vast, but how does this translate into educational practice?

We are now able to cross the boundaries of time and space.

We are now able, quite easily, to discover
learning whenever, wherever, and with whomever best suits our needs. What impacts will it have on teaching and learning? What impact will it have when we can see, chat, and learn from people across the world? How will it impact our thinking when we learn about the world through the eyes and beliefs of others across the world? What new layers of thinking and understanding will we need to develop?

One layer will challenge our understanding of context. The fact that so many people responded to the amazing context of
Clarence Fisher in Canada and David Warlick's
changing scenes says something. They invited us into their worlds and shared a part of themselves. Seeing the images of them in a context
opened a window into their worlds and ideas that words alone could not
have accomplished. We all know how helpful it is to finally put a face to a name. But, by adding the context of a place, a new level of understanding grew.

Connecting with others with a view of their location in the backdrop offers a new visual layer of understanding and connection to navigate. What can our students learn about
about perspective, viewpoint, and the relationships between the strands
of geography though the contexts of global collaborations? We are far beyond passively viewing a video offering highlights of the geography, culture, and people of a place. What more do they learn by exploring the sights and sounds of another place at a personal level rendered through the eyes and beliefs of another?

Connecting personally will demand more from learners. By crossing the boundaries of time and space, learners will be
challenged to explore the the relationships between context and beliefs. It will challenge their stereotypes and shake the status quo. It will push them to listen, really listen, to ask questions, and to seek new levels of understanding. Within the context of the challenge, their lies a genuine opportunity for developing new relationships and for weaving new tapestries of global understanding.

What colors are in your tapestry of understanding?

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