November 13, 2012

How to Love a Plant

Amy Park and Deirdre Bailey

Earlier this year we had a pretty cool opportunity to connect with Mount Royal University professor Dr. David Bird to co-present on Plant Growth and Changes for the Calgary Science Network. We were most eager for an opportunity to ask Dr. Bird what one one thing he wished his university students came in with that we might be able to foster in elementary school. His answer was unhesitatingly curiosity. He wished his students arrived at university with a desire, confidence and ability to ask scientific questions. Overwhelmingly, many of them arrived reluctant to explore, preferring instead to wait for instructions on what to think or how to deliver in order to "pass the course".

We were excited to be able to share the following (recently completed) video with Dr. Bird and to have a conversation about the kind of thinking we tried to cultivate in our students throughout the process. Having effectively guided them toward deeper understanding of scientific research earlier in the year with our Rotten Tomatoes Decomposition Lab, our inquiry into plant growth invited students' to use their experience with the 'Game of Science' to develop their own questions this time around. They were free to choose how to structure and represent their research autonomously, based on their previous experience.

The results were messy and in some cases, disorganized. Maintaining controlled conditions was difficult, keeping outdoor plants alive in May was a challenge. Many students discovered on their own why quantitative observations are typically separated from qualitative data, how organizing information makes analyses much simpler, and which variables should be most carefully observed when documenting plant growth. Though some conclusions were surprising or skewed by human error, the real value was that our students wrapped up these experiments with an insatiable desire to discover more about plants, undeterred by the awareness that everything might fail.

October 23, 2012

Teaching as the Practice of Wisdom

Deirdre Bailey

What follows is not a typical teacher learning plan. All my previous attempts have taken the form of New Year’s Resolution type finite lists with a very fixed outline and implied expectation of “pass or fail”. I reluctantly admit I don’t have a great track record with these types of goals. I have a history of making it through about one month of successfully checking my expectations off a list before I inevitably fall off the band wagon and resign myself to a renewed attempt the following year. This year our administration suggested that learning plans could take on personalized formats. For me, this prompted a fairly serious consideration of what has been ineffective for me in previous years and how I might re-direct my focus this time around.

I think the reason that a permanent check list has never worked is that I am not the same person from month to month. If inquiry based learning has taught me anything, it is that ideas, thoughts, environments, and perspectives are impermanent. As writing is one tool that has allowed me to effectively wonder aloud, I decided a while ago that my 2012-2013 teacher learning plan should take the form of a blog...

I want to be able to competently articulate my evolving understanding of effective educational pedagogy and hold myself accountable for actually practicing what I believe in the classroom. While re-figuring my thinking is likely to remain a permanent state, it is important to me that I am able to express my educational philosophy in order to continue to advocate for more thoughtful and relevant learning in the school environment.

My own education has been guided by a learned push to consume. Twitter, blog rolls and other social media exacerbate this tendency. I feel I have overlooked the value of concentration, focus and memory, so vital to real personal development. I am worried that I am losing the ability to distinguish between what I know based on experience and what I think I know based on distractions, media, and a commercial agenda.

My goal is to cultivate comprehension through composure and mindful attention to everyday experiences and ideas both in and outside of the classroom environment. I have learned that at the heart of inquiry are simple considerations of experiential origin and historical wisdom. Discourse and disagreement are openings through which complexities, ambiguities and uncertainties can broaden understanding.

As I refine my ability to articulate what I am coming to understand, the aim is to learn to be suggestive and open with my language and approach, to open a space for consideration with a simple comment or question. I would like to be able to engage in dialogue that fosters respectful and thoughtful conversation around the assumptions and intentions at the heart of educational discourse. The more I understand about teaching and learning, the more I understand that knowing everything is neither a possibility nor an objective. What I can do is learn to effecitvely describe the work that is undertaken in our classroom and hope that the better that work gets, the more it will shine a light.

October 20, 2012

Math is beautiful

It has been a bit of a battle this year to convince our students that mathematics is not disconnected. They seemed to arrive in our classroom at 9 years old with the conviction that the discipline exists sequentially, layered based on varying degrees of difficulty, some of which will remain inaccessible to the more artistically minded for most of their lives. We have been working hard to share that math is in fact a wonderfully complex web of recurring concepts, ideas, and patterns accessible through many different points from a variety of perspectives, and consisting of infinite possibilities awaiting discovery.

Our year began again with conversations about what we call multiples, what it means to be a multiple, and what a multiple of the number one is. We wouldn't let our students dismiss multiples of one as "obvious" or "easy," insisting that they consider what it means to be the number one. For example, how the number one can be manipulated without losing its integrity and how it is a part of other larger numbers. Before the fall break, we had explored multiples of one to nine, discovered patterns, noticed which ones fall into columns on hundreds chart, and noticed which multiples connected to others and how.

On Monday of this week we shared Perry the Platypus' birthday dilemma....

at this point in the year, students were quick to glue the problem in their journals and begin documenting their thinking as they worked through answering Perry's question. Some flipped back through their journals to remind themselves of previous discoveries they had made about multiples. Some organized their work in charts and some in diagrams or bullet points. Each was now familiar with the idea of writing down every thought or "a-ha!" that resulted from their considering the problem. 

Almost all of the students jumped right to identifying that in one year Perry would be a multiple of 2, 4 and 8 because every multiple of 8 is also a multiple of 2 and 4. Many wrote notes to remind themselves that the smallest multiple of any number is that number itself. One cool observation that resulted from this problem was that Perry would be a multiple of every single one of these numbers by the time he was 12 BUT that when he was 11, he would not be a multiple of any of these numbers! One student wrote... 'It seemed important to notice that both 7 and 11 are only multiples of one and themselves...' PRIME! Another student noticed that when Perry was an odd-numbered age, then he was only a multiple of odd numbers and he expanded to state that odd numbers can only have odd factors!

The coolest part of the week however, was the conversations that resulted at the tables who had begun working through an extension to the problem which asked..

How long will Perry have to wait to be a multiple of 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 all at the same time?

At first the question seemed overwhelming and intimidating to many students. They had been preconditioned to focus on finding a solution. We suggested that they look instead at which numbers on a hundreds chart were definitely NOT a solution. For example, which numbers on a hundreds chart were NOT multiples of 5... Right away we were met with excitement.. 

"WE JUST ELIMINATED 80 NUMBERS! A multiple of 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 HAS to end in 5 or 0." 
Students excitedly crossed 8 columns of numbers off their list when one double takes again... 
"Wait... the number we're looking for also has to be a multiple of 2.. it CAN'T be odd... FIVES ARE OUT!"
"So we've got ten numbers left and we're looking to see which one of these ten is a multiple of 3, 4 and 6.."
"But if it's a multiple of 3 it HAS to be a multiple of 6.."
"Right so just 4 and 6.."

Looking at multiples of 6 students immediately eliminated everything but 30, 60 and 90. One noticed that multiples of 6 only end in zero if they are multiplied by a multiple of 5. The last step was to eliminate numbers that were not multiples of 4. As 30 and 90 were eliminated, another student noticed that multiples of 4 which end in zero HAVE to have an even number in the tens spot.

As we wrapped things up for the day on Thursday, one student commented as he reluctantly closed his journal; "Mrs. Bailey, I never knew math was so exciting. It twists and turns and loops and connects all over the place and it just seems to go on forever!" 

Math is beautiful.

September 26, 2012

On Time. Again

Deirdre Bailey

"I know exactly what time is until somebody asks me."

With the school year now in full swing, the figurative "engine in the corner" is back at it, constantly racing forward, implying that the only way to get ahead is to speed up, that I'll fall behind if I hesitate. It is a struggle to regularly remind myself that I know ideas by their very nature to be interdependent and confusing and uncertain and that it is for this reason that they cannot be rushed. As I reflect again this week on "getting things done," obvious connections keep re-surfacing between time, conversation and learning space.

I recall an associated panic with just about any situation in which I have personally had the impression that time was limited. That panic is akin to a feeling I remember from a childhood spent racing upstairs at the end of an evening so as not to be left alone in the basement once the lights were off. The faster I ran, the more panicked I became until I would completely lose all ability to rationalize. Admittedly, I struggle with deadlines and tend to postpone things that are "due" in the hopes of avoiding the sickening feeling in my stomach of looming requirements. My "last-minute" scrambles are characterized by over-simplification of tasks, checklists and brevity. Under threat of impending deadlines, I become impatient and frustrated; I don't negotiate, I don't re-think, I don't compromise. I don't listen, I don't converse; I feel forced, unwilling, and defensive. I typically determine that bare minimum is "enough" and often cannot wait to quit whatever it is that I am working on because I associate it with the negative feelings of urgency.

When time is in abundance, the space I live in is drastically different. Things speak that wouldn't normally; trees, sunsets, facial expressions, soft-spoken children. I listen and I notice, and worlds open up. When nothing is demanding, life is interesting and I explore much more in-depth. I remember more from the times in which I explored things out of interest, awe, and genuine curiosity. In many cases, I have nothing "concrete" to show for it, but it is in these moments that relationships were built and fundamental brain shifts took place. It is in these moments that I was drawn into places that seemed inviting, often discovering something new about the world and myself.

John Dewey wrote: “the inclination to learn from life itself and to make the conditions of life such that all will learn in the process of living is the finest product of schooling.” Given what we know of the "learning" that takes place under pressure, there can be no doubt that these conditions must preclude fixed deadlines and pressing checklists. Human beings are not machines, soulless workers to be adapted for subservience to an arbitrary authority in the "real world." If our interaction with the world was defined instead by an acute awareness of our interdependence and an openness to being shaped by experience, imagine what we might be able to collectively understand and to create.

Time is more than the absence of deadlines or a 40-hour work week. Realistically, deadlines and checklists do not help us to "manage time" at all. The concept of time can be broadened if we consider that it is characterized by respectful exploration, active listening, and careful consideration. Although we might often feel frustrated by our inability to physically create additional time in the day, we can change the feel of our classrooms through the intentional cultivation of these attitudes towards learning that allow space for inquiry. We can "leave ideas with our students in an interesting way," inspire them to "lean in," and teach them to listen. In other words, we can and should, through respectful practice, create the "essence of time," if not actual minutes and seconds.

June 12, 2012

Day 30 - A Reflection

Amy Park

And just like that, 30 days have come and gone.  Our first PD challenge is complete and although the process of doing something everyday for 30 days was extremely beneficial, it’s in the reflection that we are truly able to understand and appreciate what we have learned along the way. Analyzing and questioning the events and experiences that have unfolded allows us to decide which things we plan on keeping, modifying, or getting rid of completely as part of our practice and daily lives.

Our first school-related challenge involved video recording our students as they discuss, share, and reflect on their learning/understanding.  This was an extremely relevant and insightful challenge.  Through these short clips, we were able to gather evidence of learning in a non-traditional way.  This served as formative assessment for both the students and us, as their teachers.  By playing back the clips, we were able to identify what students were thinking and why.  We also were able to address any misunderstandings that the students may have had.  Based on these conversations we reflected on how we taught or addressed certain topics and made adjustments as needed.  Using an app called Evernote, we were also able to tag (identify) which students were recorded and the topic they were talking about.  Organizing the clips in this fashion,  serves as a digital record for us to access at a later date.  Also, we have shared the link to the Evernote files with parents, which allow them to see a glimpse of their child as a learner in our class.

Because at any given time we have 50 kids in our class, our next challenge was to keep track of whom we called on during discussions. There was a time when we felt that we were calling upon the same kids over and over again.  By being more cognizant of whom we call on, we were able to involve more students in the conversations.  Although not always easy to track, our heightened awareness brought attention to those kids who sometimes seem to get lost in the shuffle. When more kids participate, the entire class benefits and the sense of community further expands.  As teachers, we want to ensure that all kids feel safe and comfortable sharing their ideas and thinking.  We also wants our students to understand that all ideas are valued and all voices should have the opportunity to be heard. It is often during these class discussions that our students share their most powerful learning.

Our final two challenges were directly related to our physical health.  We are all aware of how important it is to live a balanced life. We have made a consorted effort this year to incorporate active living  in our personal lives, as well as to model this for our students.  The #3kaday challenge helped us to not only become more physically fit, it also served as an opportunity for us to debrief, reflect, and plan collaboratively while we ran.  Our jogs became valued time for us at the end of each day.  The #plankaday challenge was an added bonus to our running.  To be honest, what motivated us to get through 3 minutes of planking was knowing that the @plankpolice would be after us if we didn't! Planking each day also served as a metaphor for this form of PD, in the sense that although we started small (i.e. less than a minute) we saw tremendous improvement by the end of the month - our perseverance, commitment, and pure determination paid off.

As team-teaching partners, it was incredibly valuable to go through this challenge together.  It opened up even more avenues for conversation (and sometimes debate), as well as provided opportunities to reflect on our journey along the way.  We intend to continue filming our students (check out our class website to see some of our videos) and being constantly aware of who we engage in classroom discussions.  Despite a recent fractured hand suffered by Deirdre, we are continuing to log many kilometres on the running trails near our school.  As for planking, well let's put it this way, we have blocked the @plankpolice from our twitter profiles.

June 5, 2012

A symptom

Deirdre Bailey

A child gets a zero. This is sad statement no matter the story. They're failing. They're fighting the system. They're lazy. They're disengaged. They're "entitled". They "don't care". They're crying for attention.

I have no idea of the specifics surrounding the situation in Edmonton and while I have been reflecting on the possibilities personally, to date I have refrained from participating in the conversation because I have not felt that my evolving opinion is educated enough. But tonight is my tipping point. Not because I now know enough about the specifics, but because I have an overwhelming feeling in my gut that the resulting conversations have been about the wrong things.

CBC talkback has been flooded with callers adamant that children need to be "taught a lesson", to 'fail' (they mean numerically) early in life so they can learn from their mistakes. Facebook has been streaming with everyone's two cents on the "ridiculousness" of a "no-zero" policy and classic political rhetoric advocating that we hold kids 'accountable' by slapping those zeroes on the top of their papers. Family and friends have brought up the "real world" argument. "How will they learn how to keep a job in the real world if they don't learn that you have to do what is expected when you're asked?"

There are a few things that no one has been asking.

What are grades for? What is school for? Why are some of our children 'failing'?

To those arguing that zeroes "teach them a lesson," I would urge you to consider that there is so much more to teaching and learning than quantitative communication. Real learning is intimate personal reflection that comes from lived experience, engagement in practice, and an evolution in thinking. Learning cannot be 'done' to the learner by posting a zero next to their name.

To those arguing that zeroes ensure children 'fail early,' failure is a lack of success. The word implies that something has been attempted. Zeroes are not failed attempts. There was no work here. No effort perhaps, but where then, is the lesson? No work, no pay? No work, no reward? Do we believe that rewards or pay are what should motivate our youth? (see Dan Pink) If so, some of them continue to cry loudly that they do not care for either of these. What's up with those kids? No diploma for them unless they 'play the game?'

On accountability, the definition of which is connected to 'requiring justification, explanation, and responsibility for actions;' is this genuinely possible without conversation? What might that conversation look like? Would a recurring conversation or an impersonal zero be more likely to hold kids accountable for the work they do? And then there is the question again of whether we genuinely believe that our education system should be reduced to indoctrinating the masses into our post-industrial, hierarchical social system.

The real world argument though, is my favourite, because it comes up constantly and often as the trump card. It is the one I have most often struggled with, because everybody's right; our society is rewards based and "jobs won't pay you for work you don't do." But as of recently, I can counter this argument; because I no longer work for the money - I have found my passion and it has changed everything (see Sir Ken Robinson). Often, I work well over 40 hours a week and some days I can't sleep and I am genuinely inspired on a daily basis. You could pay me 10 times as much to work in a different sector, but I wouldn't be nearly as productive because I wouldn't love it. So here's my trump card: if passion is the ultimate motivator, and education could be restructured to better inspire children to find their passion, would zeroes even come into play? I repeat a question asked by Philadelphia school principal Chris Lehmann, "should schools model the world as it is, or as it should be?"

If our goal is to develop creativity, inspire passion, or even raise the standards for rational thought and useful decision making; then our schools fail most of our citizens. At the start of this year, Amy and I had a conversation with our students about what defines 'great work.' These 9 year olds, four year veterans of our present education system, unanimously defined 'great work' as "doing what the teacher asks." At some point in these children's lives, some of them might come to understand that great work is not always necessarily exactly what a teacher asks for. Someone along the way might inspire them to think for themselves and some of them will take a good look at the world and resolve to "do what has to be done" (read: comply) to get through the system, while others will resist. Of those resistors, some might get a zero for work they do not do. If or when they do, the conversation should not be about whether or not they deserve that zero, rather, the conversation should be about whether an education system that dishes these out is one from which we can build the best version of our future.

It is always troublesome to witness how the living, cultivated detail of deepening understandings is inevitably occluded in an overly technical and methodological obsession with quantitative outcomes of the work. Just as children are not flat, anonymous, trainable beings, neither are they measurable entities. While I have no idea of the context for this zero, I fundamentally object to the conversation turning to how grades should serve as anything more than some antiquated form of incentive for better decision-making in future learning endeavours. Real learning needs no compensation, real learning sells itself.

May 1, 2012

Our 30 Day Challenge

Deirdre Bailey and Amy Park

As teachers we regularly attend and participate in various professional learning opportunities. Great ideas are presented, teachers feel inspired, and yet more often than not, come Monday, nothing changes.  Reasons for this might include lack of support for effective implementation or insufficient documentation providing evidence of how proposed changes will, if at all, impact student learning. One of the most complex and highly debated aspects of teacher professional development lies within the evaluation of its merit.

The historical assumption amongst educators that professional learning directly and positively impacts student performance and learning (Birman, et al., 2000; Darling-Hammond, et al., 2009) has led to the belief that more is better (Guskey & Sparks, 2002). Herein lies the problem. Much of what is assumed to be quality professional development (PD) cannot be explicitly linked back to improvements in the classroom. Teachers may have enjoyed PD opportunities but it is irrelevant, as that enjoyment alone is not indicative of change or improvements to teaching practice or student learning. Matt Cutts' 30 Day Challenge may pose as a solution to this problem.

When Amy first tossed around the idea of incorporating Matt Cutts' TED Talk video into a presentation on the evaluation of PD for her masters' class, we were instantly excited. As we discussed what made the idea appealing and valuable, it became evident that there is a reason the concept has taken off in popular media and culture. It is because it feels possible. Often resistance to change comes from a fear of losing a comfort level associated with the status quo or the confidence gained from repeating or re-doing what we have already done. It is undeniably easier to continue doing what one has always done than it is to change and try something new. The beauty of a 30 day challenge as an impetus for change is that it doesn't ask you to permanently revolutionize your life or to wave goodbye to your previous self. It is easier to try something new if you know it's not forever, whether it be a new diet, hairstyle or classroom practice.

Another exciting possibility for the 30 day challenge is the potential for leaving something behind for 30 days. As classroom teachers, we often feel bombarded by the number of things on our plate. What if we took something off the plate for a month and monitored its effect? What if for 30 days we didn't give a single worksheet? What if we stopped giving homework? Monitoring how students react and observing the changes we see will undoubtedly provide an opportunity to evaluate the pros and cons of change without making a permanent commitment. Through reflection, we can evaluate whether there is value in making smaller changes long term.

Our own 30 Day Challenge brainstorm resulted in an overwhelming list of activities we might adopt, habits we could drop or ideas we could test both professionally and personally for the month of May. It was difficult, but for we've narrowed it down to four. Two are education related and two are focused on personal wellness. We intend to use social media to hold us accountable along the way by blogging and tweeting our progress at the following hashtags:

#kidvid - We will interview one student a day looking for evidence of learning and understanding in both math and science. We will compile the data collected in Evernote and use it to help inform our instructional practices.

#classchat - As we teach 50 kids in an inquiry-based setting, a big part of our learning is through in-class communication, either in large or small groups. For 30 days we hope to document who participates in class discussions, who we call on, etc. which will allow us to ensure we are actively aware of involving and encouraging all students to participate during class discussions.

#plankaday - @theheartyheart is a friend, nutritionist and blogger based in Vancouver and posted about the Plank-a-Day Challenge back in March. We are are using the Plank-a-Day Challenge to try to improve our core strength.

#3Kaday - To improve our cardiovascular endurance, we are going to be running a minimum of 3km a day. Although we often run further than 3K, for those days when life is overwhelming, we are hoping that 3k will get us out the door. While running together, not only are we becoming more fit, we are able to collaborate, brainstorm, and reflect on our day - bonus PD!

A 30 Day Challenge allows teachers to not only personalize their PD by making it relevant to their needs, but to also see immediate changes in their practice. Isn't that really the whole purpose of PD?

Over the next 30 days, we encourage you to join us or follow along with the hashtag #30daychallenge as we document our progress and results. We are excited to hear about your challenges and the potential impact that 30 days of something different might have on you!


Birmanm B. F., Desimone, L., Porter, A. C., & Garet, M. S. (2000) Designing professional development that works. Educational Leadership, 57(8), 28 – 33. Retrieved from

Darling-Hammond, L., Wei, C. R., Andree, A., Richardson, N., & Orpanos, S. (2009). State of the profession: Study measures status of professional development. National Staff Development Council, 30(2), 42-50. Retrieved from

April 13, 2012

Google just keeps killing it...

Deirdre Bailey

I had a conversation with a teacher today which prompted this post. It was similar to conversations I'd had in the past about twitter, its advantages and how it has been one of the most valuable learning tools for me as I continue to inquire into teaching and learning. I find it impossible to contain my enthusiasm for how twitter has revolutionized my information consumption as I tailor it to my interests and engage in dialogue deepening my understanding. My enthusiasm for twitter might be eclipsed only by my enthusiasm for google docs. I continue to be overwhelmingly excited by the facility with which google docs allows me to  guide student collaboration, research and writing while tracking their progress, providing feedback and involving parents. It has also made assessment a total breeze.

I work at an innovative and creative institution. Perhaps it is because of the freedom we have to explore possibilities that we are often unaware of the depth to many of the simplest resources that are available. It is also without a doubt hard to be constantly adapting one's practice to ever-updating technology applications. Certainly, in this day and age, the sheer volume of resources available in education can be overwhelming. Navigating options and rating their relative value is always intimidating, particularly on the heels of a full 7 hours in front of students. But google docs is so worth it and I really am that sure. And while my presence on twitter often gives me the impression that all educators are connected, deeply familiar with technological resources and employing them in their every day practice; it occurred to me today that this might not be representative of all cases. As I continue to stumble upon features in google docs that make my job incredibly easier, I thought it might be valuable to share the simple features I have discovered and am so thankful for. This is either a biased and likely limited overview of how GDocs has been used in our classroom this year, for those who have not had the time or opportunity to explore, or it is a simple plug for the brilliance of google documents and their value in the classroom.

For our most recent science lab data collection. We used GDocs to create spreadsheets...

...which we linked to our google site 

and shared these with student groups who edited in their own colours, uploaded photos, and separated their qualitative data from their quantitative data by inserting additional sheets

Qualitative Sample

Quantitative Sample

Students used the functions feature in google spreadsheets to verify their calculations:

 They were able to graph various data using the insert chart function

We used google forms to create a survey allowing students to provide feedback on others' work...

...which transferred their feedback to a sortable spreadsheet which we were able to cut and paste into their original Science Lab spreadsheets.

The second time around, we have had students create and share their own google documents to design plant growth experiments.

We had them insert a link from this google doc to a spreadsheet in which they would track their data...

We have been able to provide feedback on particular sections of their work using the new comments feature which allows us to send them notifications and which allows them to reply and/or resolve* the comment.
*Resolving a comment removes it from the document but does not remove it from the discussion stream.

We have also been SO grateful for the revision history function which allows us to see every edit that has been made to the document since creation including accidental deletions and who has made each change and when... Furthermore, previous revisions can be restored!! Pure genius.

Google docs can be edited from any computer which makes working from home simple. It is so easy to hold kids accountable for the work they do. It takes collaboration to a whole new level and it is only getting better. I should mention that our students are only 9 and 10 years old and they have had no trouble navigating these features through their own google accounts. I can't even imagine what the future might hold for a creative mind provided with these tools. Please comment if I've missed anything particularly useful or obvious. It would make my day.

February 24, 2012

Learning from 9 yr olds...

Deirdre Bailey

As we explore the value of collaboration and inquire into effective learning, the most valuable discovery that I have made this year is that children have a lot to share; the more I listen, the more I learn and - beautifully - the more they learn.

I started the year with the expectation that I would help them discover what it was that I wanted them to know; I expected that I would never lose sight of where we were going and my goal was to track their progress and ensure that their path was tracking in the right direction. I wrote a blog earlier in the year on how the process of inquiry was like climbing a mountain where the destination was the peak, identified by the 'teacher' but the path was freely chosen by the 'learner'. The first time the kids went up a mountain, the paths were varied and hesitant. By mid-January they were almost exclusively ploughing ahead without much need for re-direction. Most recently, I have been discovering that the peak is not where I thought it was, it reaches higher, to a destination originally obscured by the clouds of my own prior knowledge and prejudice. Nine-year-old students have been taking their learning beyond the ends I envisioned and they have been finding faster routes to the peak. It is to the point where when we ask a question, their thinking takes them places I never expected it could go.

A week ago we started a conversation about characteristics and terminology for 3D shapes drawing on their previous knowledge. We had managed to define a point as a location where 3 edges meet which led to a conversation about cones and how to explain the point on a cone as there are no clear edges. Based on previous conversations in class related to the concept of infinity, one of the students defined a cone as a 3D object with an infinite number of edges. Boom. Grade four.

A few days ago we had a conversation about the differences between 3D and 2D in which they were easily able to engage, in particular drawing from their experiences with 3D films and video games. Definitions ranged from descriptive and sensory to mathematical. One student defined 3D as a piece of paper and 2D as the writing on the paper which led to a counter-argument that writing exists on paper as a result of ink molecules which are 3D on a miniscule level but nevertheless 3D. The question was then raised whether anything not 3D could exist in the world. One student responded with: "Nothing in the world is 2D. 2D is just an image in your brain. 2D is a thought, not a thing." Boom. Nine years old.

Yesterday a student suggested at the end of a Math period that we refocus our discussions by defining as a class units of measurement for 1, 2 and 3 dimensional entities. Today a student suggested we use Google Sketchup to expand on our exploration of three-dimensional shapes. "I'm thinking you could challenge us to construct a building within some parameters, maybe we could only use certain types of 3D shapes..."  Another student had been researching 4th and 5th dimensions and wanted to talk about the ambiguity of chance. We are becoming accessories in their learning. It's beautiful.

I continue to understand the inquiry process through the mountain exploration metaphor where we do not drag students to the top or march them up the well-worn path as might typically have been done in a more traditional system. As the guide, not the prison guard, I have come to understand that we are constantly engaged in empowering students' own decision-making such that they discover the peak for themselves. Most recently, I have realized that the more we let them think, the more they think, the more they know, the more they understand and the more we learn together. I wish I could have explained multiplicative commutativity with their conviction when I was in elementary school. Maybe I could have if someone had given me time or permission to play with rotating arrays. Opportunity is everything: tell them that the sky is the limit, point them in that direction, and they will land on the moon. Cheesy. Cliche. Fact.

February 8, 2012


Amy Park

Inquiry takes time.  This has been a recurring theme, and one we have discussed at length, in our math/science class over the past few months.  If we want students to become proficient in any aspect of their learning, or life for that matter, we must give them time.  Time to wrestle with challenging issues. Time to celebrate small successes. Time to learn from mistakes. Time to listen to each other and time to grow.  When we rush kids through the learning process we deny them the necessary foundational blocks needed to develop into successful, self-directed learners.  The curriculum is filled with content and at times can seem overwhelming.  If we focus on “covering” each strand, then we lose sight of the big picture.  By pushing through the curriculum, we change the focus from being student centered to teacher centred.  This is not to say that the curriculum is not an important document. It is. However, as a professional, I see it as my responsibility to carefully read through the curriculum and determine what are the “need to know”, “nice to know” and “worth being familiar with” components – a model based on Wiggins and McTighe research

We discovered through our recent Science inquiry into decomposition, that in order for kids to demonstrate depth of understanding, we need to be on their schedule, not ours.  We have invested hours of work into building background knowledge, conducting research, experimenting in the science lab, and finally documenting the entire learning process. Now that we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, we have been struggling with wanting to wrap things up.
But the learning process can’t always be wrapped up in nice, neat, little packages. Just because we want to move on, doesn’t mean our students are ready to. Listening to their voices and actually internalizing what they are saying (or not saying) has caused us to rethink our desire to "keep on keeping on".  Taking that little bit of extra time to really listen has helped us realize how much our students are learning about being true scientists, mathematicians, technologists, writers, producers, artists, and more.  They are also developing strengths and skills as collaborators, problem solvers, critical thinkers, reflective thinkers, and they are increasingly able to interpret all different kinds of data in order to create meaning. These curious and confident nine-year-olds prove to us everyday that being committed to the goal of learning and inquiring is far more important than being able to recall mundane facts that will be forgotten the moment they step out of our room at the end of June. We are hopeful that the skills, competencies, and attitudes that our students will be leaving with will serve them well as they venture into higher grades.  Effectively developing these simply wouldn't be possible without time.

Professor Lilliane McDermott further emphasizes this point. She states, “Meaningful learning…requires that students be intellectually active… To be able to transfer a skill learned in one context to another, students need multiple opportunities to use that same skill in different contexts. The entire process requires time”.

McDermott, L. (1993). How we teach and how students learn:  A mismatch? American Journal of Physics, 61(4). University of Washington.

Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (2005) Understanding by design. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD)

January 30, 2012

My Monday Manifesto

Deirdre Bailey

An overwhelmingly engaging weekend of actively stretching my mind around powerful new perspectives on education and I find myself struggling desperately and unsuccessfully to shut off a raging brain and take advantage of the opportunity to nap on the trip home. Key resonants of conversations float into focus and I feel a strange combination of inspiration and desperation that without committed action these pieces will fail to translate into something new.

Thank goodness for the piece that was Dan Barcay’s comment during a Friday panel on sustaining innovation; “as our world moves from a period of information scarcity to one of information overload, education is now a navigation problem instead of a cramming one.” This thought results in a giant sigh-of-relief as I suddenly conceive of the best, the only way to move through to tomorrow with purpose. I just need a map to navigate to my next destination. And so the question is no longer: how will I become - overnight - one of those groundbreaking educators I met at Educon? Rather, the question is: what pieces am I going to put together to get me on that innovation boat and moving through the water on Monday?

Here are those pieces:

Explore the adjacent possible. Play up ignorance of what is possible to create space for imagination. “See the snake in a benzene ring.” Make it emotional. Connect what you’re doing to how you feel. Ask: “Wouldn’t it be cool if...?”

Find your place. “Financial gain is no longer the pinnacle of what it means to be a participant in society.” Seize the freedom to know where you’re going. Prove that you don’t need to be told what to know and how, just given the opportunity to be curious and the confidence to be fallible. Ask: “What role do you want to play? Who do you want to be? What’s your story?”

Allow others to draw on top. There’s something to be said for putting stuff out there that other people can edit. Google Earth has amazing applications that lets external users write all over it. Think wikis. Think apps. Open it up and all of it. Only biased research publicizes wholly positive results. Share accurately. What didn’t work and why? Put it all out there, then step back and have a look at what other people can do with it. Ask: “What would you do with this? What could you do with this?”

How to be. Be colleagues. Appreciate personality. Re-infuse humanity in every day. Don’t assume or assert. “Show kindness and care, if they take advantage of it that’s on them.” Let them figure it out. “Let it be okay not to be okay” but notice when it’s not okay. Listen patiently and listen actively. Ask: “Are you okay?”

These pieces are a mosaic of multiple ideas and mutual understandings, reflective of what was so openly and generously shared at Educon by Zoe Strauss, Chris Emdin, Alec Couros and so many others. I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to reflect on them. More massive thanks to Chris Lehmann and the spectacular community at SLA. Inspired.