January 26, 2014

Make Math Memorable (A response)

I've had the opportunity to engage in further conversation about math education with Dr. Robert Craigen, Assoc. Math Professor and co-founder of WISE Math. My response to Dr. Craigen's most recent comment wouldn't fit in comments so I've included it, along with the initial response, here.

January 21, 2014

Monkeys or Mathematicians (Math is More Than Memorization)

Pedagogy trumps curriculum every time.
The recent parent-driven push for a “return to basics” shift in math curriculum in Alberta is not unexpected. Our post-industrial society remains regrettably focused on relaying and assessing content over process. The deeply embedded desire to quantify student thinking for the sake of a neat, uni-dimensional continuum that claims to represent student potential results in the inevitable association of learning with factual and procedural recall. Quite simply, we've designed schools to train and measure our children. We group them by age, divide their days into standardized units and test them at regular intervals in order to compare them to their peers. Memorization is easy to measure in math so we convince ourselves we’re holding kids accountable by measuring their recall. This also allows us to rank and sort students effectively without actually engaging them in conversation, something PISA has effectively mastered. However, making a judgement about the quality of an entire math curriculum based on data snapshots from a moment in time is not only irresponsible it's ridiculous. Advocating that because memorization scores have dropped, an entire curriculum should re-focus on memory work is incredibly shortsighted. We've already been there. It wasn't awesome.


November 3, 2013

Thinking Through the Awards Debate

Every once in a while something I care a lot about comes up in the media and is massively misrepresented. It often becomes pretty difficult for me to let it go. Last Sunday's Calgary Herald article on St. Basil's School moving away from traditional award ceremonies allowed one voice to dominate the conversation. No perspective was added from the teaching staff or students attending the school, and the substantial research in support of the school's shift away from honour roll ceremonies was virtually ignored. Most regrettably, the over-simplification of a complex issue resulted in many public contributions to the conversation that were reactionary and ill-informed. The primary arguments in favour of an honour roll seemed to be that it provides recognition for hardworking students, as well as motivation for them to do great work. Both perspectives deserve to be thoughtfully examined.

October 21, 2013

My Story of Change in Education: Student Voice and Physical Space

This story was put together as part of the Canadian Education Association's "What Standing in the Way of Change in Education" Conference in Calgary, October 21 - 22, 2013.

I only remember a few specifics from my first few weeks in the classroom. I had big ideas but the execution was definitely messy. I remember trying to keep track of things that worked and didn’t in those first few months and the second category was certainly larger than the first. I remember the first time I gave the students a math problem that asked that they apply an understanding of place value. Within ten minutes, three children were crying because they didn’t understand and were afraid to get the wrong answer. Somehow I hadn’t anticipated that my fifty students from all over the city would have such varying experiences and attitudes towards learning.

October 17, 2013

Re-thinking inquiry-based practice in physical education

While conventional education is often criticized for either segmenting learning into smaller pieces without ever giving kids the whole picture, or for letting kids read all about something without ever having an opportunity to engage in the process or "play the whole game" as Harvard School of Education Professor writes in his book Making Learning Whole, physical education does not often suffer the same criticisms.  Kids play the whole game all the time - PE teachers might argue, whether it be basketball, volleyball, baseball, badminton or floor hockey.

My challenge to "traditional" PE programs however, would be that the games they are playing are the wrong ones. If the purpose of "playing the whole game" is that students are able to engage in real work

September 11, 2013

When Winning is the Dominant Discourse

A hilarious post from the satirical CBC news show "This is That" made the rounds on social media late last week claiming that an Ontario Soccer Club had decided to eliminate the ball from soccer in an effort to curb competition. The article cites a pseudo spokesperson as saying:
"We want our children to grow up learning that sport is not about competition, rather it's about using your imagination. If you imagine you're good at soccer, then, you are."

August 28, 2013

Retrospect and Reinvention

Looking back, I can without a doubt acknowledge that what has emerged most significantly from my early experiences in teaching is the idea that the most important measure of my pedagogical practice is the degree to which it has persisted in evolving.

I used to believe that the only alternative to structure was chaos
I used to believe winning was material
I used to believe in quantitative acknowledgement of learning and data-driven assessment
I used to believe that ambiguity was the enemy
I used to believe that learning could be bottled and finite

June 3, 2013

How To Build an Awesome Car (Engineering Thinking in Grade 4)

Traditionally, Grade 4 "Wheels, Levers and Devices that Move" units involve hands on investigations in which students have the opportunity to build something. Often however, these building opportunities are heavily regulated and have students follow a specific set of instructions, put pieces together sequentially and then showcase a collection of virtually identical products.

While I can't pretend to know a whole lot about engineering, I am pretty confident that if the discipline were focused on building from instruction booklets, Chris Hadfield wouldn't have spent the last 6 months in space. As Dr. David Perkins' mentions in Making Learning Whole, kids don't learn to play the game if all they ever get are the pieces...

April 14, 2013

On Light, Shadows and Experience

Co-authored by Jenna Callaghan
Cross-posted on the Calgary Science School's Connect!

We began a recent investigation into Light and Shadows in Grade 4 by posing the question “What is Light?” to our students. Before beginning the conversation, we reminded students that the world is not nearly as concrete or easily-understood as over-simplified statements of "fact" might often imply. We talked about how scientists are by nature inquisitive, always open to possibility and a reinvention of old ideas. We suggested that throughout our inquiry, they too might have the potential to share a completely new perspective, contribute to making new discoveries and either support or disprove current thoughts. With two of us in the classroom, we were able to capture some of our students’ opening ideas about 'Light' and have embedded them below.

April 9, 2013

Kindness - A Recurring Theme

Every once in awhile all the pockets of spark that I come across intersect and whether it's true or not it really feels like the universe is pulling together to communicate something important. Today I had to write about it. The trigger was an impromptu conversation with my student teacher about how sometimes, teaching core curricular outcomes gets set aside for a period and this is okay. Because sometimes it's important to have a conversation about how to be a good person; about what it means to be kind, to make a thoughtful decision, to show compassion or respect. If real teaching is inspiring the hearts and minds of children, then taking time for these conversations, creating space and modelling the kind of brave compassion that leads to hope and change is the most important thing we do.