Mimicry-Ya Got That?

As I’ve been working on thinking about “LEARNING”  for the project at Thinking About Words Through Images,  my camera has been my constant companion at school.  That’s not unusual, for me to pull out my camera and snap pictures of my students working, but the difference is that I have told them WHY I am taking pictures and some of what I am thinking.  I have shared the link to that wiki, and it’s been interesting–knowing that I am collaborating with educators from all over the world seems to have had an impact on my students. I notice them commenting on each others’ wikis more, offering strategies in class more explicitly and asking each other questions that imply accountability to the community (like, have you finished your  geometry wiki page, I’ll call you tonight to remind you to bring in your iPod, etc.)

But, I wonder– am I seeing these things more because I am looking for specific instances of learning to photograph?

I have learned a lot in the first week of January, trying to take pictures of “learning.” First, it’s HARD trying to capture a still picture of the active learning in which my kids engage. I find myself wanting to describe the pictures, to explain what’s going on, to share the amazing thinking I see in my kids. While the images can capture some of what is going on, I need words as well.  I find myself posting my lessons (both adult and student ones) to the web, describing what happened and what I was hoping to happen. It’ll be interesting to see what I think and how I’m looking at the world through the lens of my camera at the end of the month.

What else I’ve learned is that it doesn’t matter what age kids are, they still mimic their teacher.

In teaching kindergarten, one of the funniest things to watch was when kids were in “free choice” time and they chose to play school.  I would hear my words coming out of their mouths, just as in housekeeping, I would hear their parents’ words.  It was eye-opening in both situations, and I often changed the ways I worded things based on the feedback I received watching my kids mimic me. (In parent conferences, I often told parents I wouldn’t believe half of what their kid told me about them if they’d promise me the same–because we ALL know that age also has a very active imagination!)

Yesterday was a hoot–the mimicry happened with fifth graders. In my class, when students are explaining their thinking, I often play confused so they have to be more explicit in their explanation and they learn how to explain their thinking more logically, sequentially and in depth.  I check for understanding with the group listening frequently by stopping the explainer periodically and asking the group things like, “Do you understand what s/he is saying?”  or “Did you get that?”  or “Does everybody know what s/he means when s/he says. .. ?”   I guess my most used is, “Did you get that?” Kids in my class don’t hesitate to ask for more explanation because this is part of our day-to-day conversations, AND they see me model confusion and asking clarifying questions.

Ms. White, Tzstchr

In a lesson where these pictures were taken, I was playing my confused self.  I had been taking pictures, but sat down at a table to probe a student who was making an assumption she shouldn’t have been making. Setting my camera on the table, I began asking the child to show me her thinking. After several minutes of interaction, another student picked up my camera and began taking pictures of our interactions. I paid no attention to that and continued with my questions.  She put the camera down, and throughout the next 5-10 minutes, several students took turns picking it up and taking pics as others gathered around to hear the conversation and support the child being questioned if they could. watchingThe pictures they got were pretty good (I had to leave out two because they have students whose pictures may not be put on the web.)

However, the funniest part was Toria taking over the explanation for the child I had begun with and explaining to me the way she saw to work the problem.  (She describes class on her wiki page, MathIDidToday.)   She was showing me her way, and I made her do it three different ways, apparently not understanding each time. (I asked her to, NOT because she didn’t get it, but because she was so adroit at thinking flexibly, choosing various shapes and changing her approach and modeling descriptive language for the others watching.)  By the third time, she was getting a wee bit frustrated with my lack of “getting it”, so she finished and, (truly) standing up, with a hand flourish, asked,  “Ya got that?”

The class erupted in HOWLING laughter. . .that’s why they all left with the red faces Toria describes!

UPDATE: the kid who picked up the camera first just wiki-mailed me and asked if I had ever figured out whether S4 was half of S5 (which was the problem we were working on that’s described in this blog.). I wrote her back this message:

Hanna, I’ll share a secret that you cannot share.
Please read this: http://tzstchr.edublogs.org/mimicry

PW

Her response back to me was simply priceless:

wow that is so cool i have never known but i did notice that you ALLWAYS didn’t get what we were telling you

What Would You Like To Read?

Today I tweeted this out:

I need to write 2-pg paper about schools/technology… ideas? Audience could be anyone-probably mostly educators. What would you want to read? about 9 hours ago from TweetDeck

Here’s the backstory:

So, Let’s Start Writing…..

Collaborative book writing project set to begin.

http://mobilehomeonmainstreet.blogspot.com/2009/10/so-lets-start-writing.html

I volunteered to be one of these writers and am just getting to it.  (Darah graciously is still accepting submissions, so if you’d like to join in, feel free to email him at the email listed in his blog entry.)

And got these responses (newest first):

20.

mwacker @paulawhite 2 ideas, 1) how can tech reduce gender/SES gaps in education 2) protocol/checklst around designing differntiated lessons w/ tech

19.

tperran @paulawhite I would like to read stories from teachers who have effectively integrated a variety of technologies into their instruction

18.

hotei @Linda704: @paulawhite How about how you use Twitter, etc to expand your learning? Agreed!  about 6 hours ago

17.

psbenson @jackiegerstein: @paulawhite projected educational techonology trends for 2010.  about 6 hours ago

16.

johnsonmaryj @paulawhite Hints for keeping up with educational applications of technology? Or what educators on twitter are talking about?  about 8 hours ago

15.

pammoran @paulawhite I’m interested in how tech reduces distance bet learner & learning from 1:25 teach/stu to 1:1 w choice theory focus  about 8 hours ago

14.

teacherspirit @paulawhite What about a paper about digital citizenship?  about 8 hours ago

13.

mmiller7571 @paulawhite re: you paper… I think my teachers would like to hear a success story of integration from 0 to success, practical ideas  about 8 hours ago

12

dlaufenberg @paulawhite re: you paper… I often like the idea of embracing failure as a topic… http://delicious.com/dlaufenberg/embracingfailure

11.

jasondeluca @paulawhite would want to read… where are we now? and… where should we be going with use of technology?  about 8 hours ago

10.

jackiegerstein @paulawhite projected educational techonology trends for 2010.  about 8 hours ago

9.

flourishingkids @paulawhite would want to read about how to use tech in my classroom when limited by resources available or how to get grants for new tech  about 8 hours ago

8.

maryjanewaite @paulawhite I’d like to read how kids view schoolwork, teachers, technology and use that valuable kid info to change how I do my job  about 8 hours ago

7.

pimathman @paulawhite Maybe articulating difference between technology for technology’s sake vs usefulness in learning  about 8 hours ago

6.

irasocol @paulawhite choosing technologies which transform  about 9 hours ago

5.

cmt1 @paulawhite Schools/tech – mentioning all the 21st c literacies that should be pa of the learning landscape  about 9 hours ago

4.

gardenglen @paulawhite I’d like 2 read how & why tchrs have stdnts use technology (as pedagogy tool)  about 9 hours ago

3.

Vonluck @paulawhite Twitter and/or cell phone use in the classroom might be interesting for MS HS teachers, paper on PLCs/PLNs would also be great.  about 9 hours ago

2.

sraslim @paulawhite how about Cushing Academy and their 70 e-readers?  about 9 hours ago

1.

Linda704 @paulawhite How about how you use Twitter, etc to expand your learning?  about 9 hours ago

Obviously I am not an expert on most of these, but a lot of them DO ask for personal experience or opinions.  So, given these (or another topic of YOUR choice), what would YOU like to read?

The Magic of Computing

This morning Scott McLeod tweeted:

We're not showing and teaching kids the magic of computing.

We're not showing and teaching kids the magic of computing.

He was citing a quote from an article in the NY Times, that was discussing computer classes and how they center on programming to the exclusion of “explain{ing} the steady march and broad reach of computing across the sciences, industries, culture and society” which includes letting students use tools they use out of these traditional settings, such as “e-mail, text-messaging and Facebook.”

Now, I don’t know if he was agreeing with the statement, “We’re not teaching the magic of computing” but if he was, I disagree. In any case, I disagree with the statement.

On Sunday, one of my 3rd graders went to a play with his family and then wrote an unassigned and unsolicited review on his wiki.  It was a GREAT step for this kid, so I quickly added a cluster map to his wiki and then tweeted the link out to my followers, asking folks to visit. Not only did I get some great comments on his wiki, but people retweeted me

Picture 4 Picture 5 Picture 6

(Thanks @beckyfisher73, @mbTeach, @Raysadad, @langwitches, @rkiker, @MsBisonline, @TweetsfromMrsB and anyone else who RT’d it!)

Within 24 hours, the wiki got almost 100 hits from 6 of the 7 continents!

Owenvisits

Now, these stats are the talk of my kids on wikimail-and the phone–this morning.  And, these kids are all 7-11 year olds. When these kids see that Owen’s wiki has been viewed by people all over the world, does ANYONE think they are not going to believe that writing and publishing on the web is magic?

Even the people who helped me front load this ClustrMap were thrilled with the responses:

Picture 7

My kids are already creating content–both self-chosen and assigned–on their individual wikis. They are using the wikimail that wikispaces offers to communicate with one another inside and outside of school. They are participating with tools in a Digital FABLAB.  They are using and taking home iPods, and reviewing apps they are using on those devices. Students in our school use tools like Voicethread, Skype, and  Scratch and we have a teacher who comes in twice a week BEFORE school to help kids with their online fantasy football leagues. Our students participate in online projects with other elementary students, and our fifth grade is using Edmodo for many classroom assignments. I believe our students ARE experiencing the magic of computing–and envisioning possibilities–in many ways.

When kids say to me,

*”Ms. White, can I text my Dad to see if I can stay after school for the digifablab workshop?” (one that was aimed at TEACHERS!) or,

*”Are we going to use the Silhouette machine in our 2-D geometry unit?” or

*”May I begin our Civil War wiki over spring break?”

our elementary students ARE learning the magic of computing!

And, I am NOT in the only school doing things like this–online projects, Skype, Voicethreads, blogs and wikis are in widespread use among the teachers in my PLN. These may not be widespread practices in all schools, but I believe the pockets of innovation are growing, and the evidence is mounting that these tools are worthwhile and helpful, and beyond that, critical to helping our students live in THEIR world. Students today are learning that digital tools can be used for creation, and not just regurgitation.

Maybe we could be painting these pictures faster, or better, or in a more efficacious way, but you know what? People should be careful about making blanket statements such as the one that began this post (made by Ms. Cuny from the National Science Foundation), AND perhaps folks in positions such as hers should get out in schools more.

Your thoughts?

Shifting Frustrations

WOW!  I had a busy week last week attending two conferences (VASCD and VSTE) and working with a student who presented at a UVA mini-summit on children’s engineering. Learned lots, have a ton to think about, but wanted to share my story about my substitute in the context of trying to teach differently and help my students learn differently.

So I left my gifted students lesson plans on their wiki. I often do this in class and so they are used to it, and very self-directed with it.  I left sub plans that said each day they would have the same routine–two kids go get 4 laptops for 12 kids, they split into groups of three and work through the math tutorials on the designated pages listed here:  Crozet 5th Math 0910.

I had also carefully designed a growing dependence on doing it online, that you can see in the plans. I felt pretty good about leaving my kids doing this–they were studying content they needed some review on, but could also handle independently in groups.  I had set up the routine so they were doing activities familiar to them, and the sub had little to do. In fact I said in my plans, “You will simply have to monitor that they stay on task.” I left her NO teaching, NO homework, NO grading, just behavior monitoring of  HIGHLY motivated, well-behaved kids.

The sub experience was a disaster.  In trying to be helpful and do school as she knows it, she changed  my lesson plans substantially to the point my kids began wiki-mailing me the second day from their iPods, complaining. They were not allowed to work collaboratively, the online activities were changed to worksheets, and they had no time to do the higher level thinking pieces I had left in my plans–so they spent three days doing worksheets on skills where they needed only some review.

My principal and I have had conversations about whether to get a sub when I need to be out, knowing that subs cannot run my classroom as I do. However, I also realize that as a resource teacher when my kids are unexpectedly back in the classroom, it does cause some issues for the classroom teacher, so we have hesitantly decided to get me a sub.

I am going in Monday asking for NOT getting me a sub.  My kids would have been better off in their own classrooms, using the classroom computers to follow the directions on the wiki quietly in the back or corner of the room. They would have been self-directed, gotten the work done, thought about the skills at a high level in evaluating themselves and their own learning, and been monitored by teachers who KNOW them!

PLUS, if they are allowed to work like this in their own classrooms, perhaps I can, as David Truss suggests in his post, Shifting Education,  “Nurture your colleagues like you nurture your students in your class.” I can nurture through examples–because I KNOW the teachers will look at the wiki.  I KNOW they will monitor what the kids are doing and perhaps get some ideas for their own classrooms! And, I also know they will see their kids being more self-directed than they see in their classrooms, because they are not allowed to direct their own learning there.

For an example of how I am trying to help students better understand learning processes, see an independent study group’s work for this week at The Four Question Strategy wiki.

Perhaps, if I set kids up in their classrooms to do “real” work, as described by Chris Lehmann in his recent post, “Shifting Ground” teachers will have new pictures painted for them of the possibilities in school.  Perhaps teachers will begin to understand that “It is time to stop thinking of school as preparation for real life and instead show students that the time they spend in school can be a vital and enriching part of their very real and very important lives.” (Chris in Shifting Ground).

Perhaps, then, my style of teaching and honoring kids’ desires to direct their own learning will spread beyond my classroom and teachers will shift to “take advantage of tools to help them and their students find their way.” ( a slight rewording from David Truss)

Losing Our Minds

Everyone should read Deborah Ruf’s book, Losing Our Minds.  Not only does she do an EXCELLENT job of describing giftedness in many different ways, but she also describes different KINDS of giftedness and different ways of meeting those needs in the classroom.  She addresses push in and pull out models, the need for independent studies and when that isn’t necessary. She really makes the delivery of services for meeting the various needs of gifted kids just make sense.

I also love the book, “Young, Gifted and Black,” by Theresa Perry, Asa Hilliard III, and Claude Steele, as they describe the cultural and democratic aspects to be considered when looking at educating blacks in America.  They make the point that REALLY we have only been experimenting democratically with truly educating African Americans for a short period of time. MANY folks, as African Americans were “integrated” into society in the 1900s –and many still today–question the mental capacity, the intellectual competence of black people, looking at historical academic achievement as “proof”. This book argues that “since learning is fundamentally contextual, there are extra social, emotional, cognitive and political competencies required of African Americans precisely because they ARE African Americans.” (See Ira Socal’s recent post, Crossing America: An Education for a better explanation than I am giving here.)

BUT, what brought this topic to mind is a recent article, “No Gifted Minority Left Behind” in the Richmond (VA) Times that @JonBecker and @mwacker (Michael Wacker) posted.  Our county is currently (as many are) examining the discrepancy between membership group populations and enrollment in special programs such as Gifted, Special Education, Advanced Placement/Honors courses, technical programs, etc.)

So, I asked Michael and Jon: Do you believe that just because say, 70% of your student population is white, 70% of your gifted (or SPED) population should be?

Their responses included the following comments and questions:

becker@paulawhite no, but we should be within a much tighter confidence interval than we are now; extreme disproportionality is problematic.

Me-> 2 years ago our Gifted Advisory Committee did a study on that discrepancy, Jon, and my school was the ONLY one near to that tight confidence interval. However, it isn’t anymore, as I moved schools, and the GTs who came after didn’t continue ID of minorities. (I’ve now been gone from that one 5 years and the kids I identified are mostly gone.)


wacker@jonbecker @paulawhite agreed, its not that clean, but it is an issue, has anyone addressed cultural bias in the tests themselves?

becker@mwacker @paulawhite yes, and most LEAs have moved away from a single test for ID purposes, but that hasn’t made much of a difference.

Me->BECAUSE most people still look at the test score (no matter what test) as most important–behaviors and class work is incidental, and the one snapshot test “MUST” be more valid.

wacker@paulawhite @jonbecker do you use a triangulation data collection method for determining giftedness? Is it just one test or a B.O.E.?

So I responded:

Part of the discrepancy in identification IS cultural in that (and this goes back to my K blog) some cultures ENCOURAGE movement and calling out. Have either of you ever been to a southern black Baptist church? Calling out, responding aloud in group, NOT raising hands and moving is all part of their ritual–so ESPECIALLY kids with those experiences have to be indoctrinated to the hidden curriculum of school (sit down, be quiet and listen)–and teachers see those active, calling-out kids as “misbehaving” so therefore, they CAN’T be really smart. GTs often aren’t aware of cultural differences in behaviors, and most teachers DEFINITELY aren’t!

In fact, I go looking for those calling out/active kids cause it’s a GREAT sign of engagement.

I have a 5th grader right now (NOT minority)whose behavior has interfered with ANY teacher seeing his absolute BRILLIANCE…cause he refuses to “play school.” He wants to learn and he wants his questions answered–and he wants to know WHY he has to do stupid busy work, so he constantly challenges the teachers, which gets him sent to a safe spot. I’m trying to get them to give him a laptop AT the safe spot and see what he does with it. He recently embedded a WHOLE middle school math book on his wiki so others could read it and learn “as much as I did.”

I have another, a 2nd grade minority girl who did the most sophisticated sort of dominoes last year in a class lesson–when I pointed it out to the teacher, her response was “she must have copied.” This year’s teacher is noticing her novel responses.

Then, Samantha Melvin joined in:

melvinauthentic differentiated learning can only take place with authentic differentiated TEACHING –so glad you are sharing this!!

Me->Teachers have to understand that it is not about assembly line work or making everyone part of a melting pot, but separate and distinct individuals with specific strengths and passions. It’s not about conforming but honoring and providing opps for differences and personal strengths to be used and grow.

YES!  about process, not product! Amelvinre we giving them the skills they need to demonstrate their knowledge in a variety of ways? (serving the individual learner)

Great question! Here’s where (IMHO) tech plays a SERIOUS part and meets a HUGE need!

So, when you read the article, what do you think?  ARE we leaving no gifted minorities behind, or are we losing our minds?



Do We Send Him to K or Wait a Year?

Last night @JonBecker and @BeckyFisher73 were tweeting and mentioned me, so I joined their conversation. Jon is struggling, as so many parents do, with whether to enter his son in Kindergarten when his age says he can go or wait a year. He’s tweeted often about his son, so I know a bit about his behavior in some situations.

I have spent over half of my career teaching early childhood, with 17 years specifically being in Kindergarten and/or First Grade or a K-1 combo (MOSTLY K). I have a Master’s in Early Childhood from the University of Virginia that I got in the early 90’s when they actually had an Early Childhood department. I am now a Gifted Resource Teacher and have taught in 6 different elementary schools in our division, from the smallest and poorest performing (at the time) to ones who are extremely advantaged (i.e., the principal can pretty much ask the parents to fund anything and someone will write a check) to ones who are succeeding in all traditional measures to ones with diversity and ones with little diversity.

So, when Jon tweeted that he was looking for opinions, I certainly have one, as I usually do.  🙂

In a series of tweets broken into 140 characters, poor Jon had to read over time as my slow connection allowed me to post.  Here’s what I shared (with some minor additional explanations sometimes):

Let me just say that young boys often enter at a disadvantage…sometimes due to teacher bias and/or inexperience, or traditional school expectations (the not-so-hidden curriculum of sit down, be quiet and listen) which is not only inappropriate, but getting worse and expected more in the schools I’ve seen. I counseled my daughter in law to NOT enter my grandson, an August birthday, into Kindergarten when he was just barely 5, but she did and he’s still struggling…not necessarily ONLY because of the early entrance, but also because he’s a gifted LD kid. He’s one of those who has only had the LD part worked with and most teachers do not give him a chance to show the brains because they can’t get past his disability–or worse yet, the label. He’s an incredibly frustrated kid who hates school, but loves learning OUT of school.

Jon’s next question: but what if I’m like every other parent and think my child is Uber-gifted “academically?”

Fact is, Jon, your kid has the rest of his life to learn in school-like situations. Do you push him into a system we, as educators, KNOW doesn’t typically meet the needs of the extremes, or do you enjoy him and make sure he gets to be a kid as long as he can before having to face the brutal realities of the world out there at age 5 or 6? Another fact is MANY parents are holding their kids out, so the age of kids in a grade is not only a wider span, but often has more older kids. So, if you enter a young one on time, he may be almost 2 years younger than some in his class. And, what do you do now for his uber-giftedness?  Can you not do that another year and let him grow socially into being comfortable with his emotions and other kids in more able ways?

Another fact is that gifted kids DO grow asynchronously and often their emotions are way behind their intellect–one of the challenges of parents of gifted kids is to remember that their ability to reason and talk and think at a high level is the anomaly-their behavior is often RIGHT ON TARGET for their age. When they temper tantrum or cry or act like a baby out of jealousy of a new sibling, they are simply acting their age. Parents often struggle when the kid talks so much like an adult, or can handle their own in a very sophisticated discussion but then acts in other situations like–OMG–a KID!

(Others joined the conversation here and the rest is a conglomeration of tweets to Jon and others, (with slight modifications to allow for context) and additional thoughts I have had since last night.)

It is CRUCIAL that early childhood teachers be nuturers FIRST and academians second–but GREAT academians who can meet those emotional needs WHILE fostering or extending a love of learning. MOSTLY you want an Early Childhood teacher who dwells on competence rather than deficits. They simply have to recognize the strengths of kids and make that public daily in ways that support the kid, and allow others to see those strengths as well.

Too many times kids, especially active young boys who don’t do the hidden curriculum well, get constantly fussed at for not sitting quietly, for asking questions out of turn, for blurting out answers, for fiddling with stuff, and those constant reprimands from the teacher say to the other kids that this kid isn’t smart. Think about it–isn’t it a sign of intelligence when one WANTS to engage, when one wants to ask questions, when one is so involved in the conversation that conversational turn-taking falls by the wayside, when one is constantly looking and fiddling with the stuff in one’s world to figure out how things work? Well, some K teachers–heck, some teachers in all grades–see their job as one where they are supposed to teach kids to play the game of school and learn how to sit down, shut up and listen. In many schools and most Kindergarten situations, kids are expected mostly to learn how to conform to the teacher’s (and parents’) traditional expectations for school behaviors.

Well, you and I both know smart people often DON’T conform. When that brilliant child needs that question answered and perseveres to ask it, s/he may get put in time out–or a safe spot–or sent away from the group for interrupting or not listening, or not doing what the teacher asked him/her to do. When that happens, tears may come as the kid is outraged at the injustice and/or may be hurt (crushed!) at the exclusion from the group. (Gifted kids also have an exaggerated sense of justice and fairness, too-and situations like this only amplify their outrage.) When other kids see that kid go to time out, or be fussed at constantly, or cry, they recognize these are NOT appropriate school behaviors–and no matter what the circumstances, the child who may be simply TRYING to engage is seen by others as perhaps a “bad boy”, a “crybaby”, “not smart”  or worse.

That’s why I say the teacher has to recognize strengths and display them publicly.  I can chastise my 5th grader in one moment for his misbehavior and in the next talk about WHY I perceive him shutting others out, explaining to the group that he’s involved in his own thinking and input from others may not allow him to work out HIS thinking just yet.I honor HIS style of learning while showing him he may need to adapt his behavior NOT to say “Shut up and leave me alone” to say “I need a few more moments to think, please. Can you be quiet and let me think?”

I spoke all the time to my K kids about how we are not in school by ourselves, but part of a group, so the conversations HAVE to involve turn-taking–and sometimes all of us will blurt out because of our excitement or enthusiasm, but it can’t happen all the time. I point out the REASONS behind the behavior and WHY some conformity is necessary. I speak to why I am asking the kid to leave the group–NOT because I am kicking him/her out, but because I need a few minutes to get the others going on something before we can have a private conversation. (Reread my first two blogs, “Why TZSTCHR? (Teasiest Teacher)” and Rules-Schools Have Too Many!” to see other ways I deal with shaping behaviors while respecting individualism.)

As parents,

As grandparents,

As people who LOVE our kids,

we all want to see our children grow up in happy situations, in places that will be safe emotionally and that will allow them to grow and stretch intellectually. Fact is, school is an institution and the social mores and groups determine (more often than not) which path we take in school.  Give your child the best chance by NOT sending them emotionally insecure to begin with–by enrolling them when they are ready and have the adaptability skills to handle the social/interactive piece of school and the various interactions they will encounter–and that includes traditional situations, various cultures, new situations, schedule changes and evolving routines. You can always push a bit later for the academic needs to be met, but let him/her grow, adapt, learn how to settle in a bit and adjust first. The social needs, for a young immature child, are paramount right now.

PS–the gifted teacher in me HAS to add, “Just don’t let go of the academic needs forever!”

Tools/Schmools

I stole that title from this post: http://jonorech.blogspot.com/2008/12/tools-schmools.html Jon wrote this post a year ago, and it is one we need to keep in front of all of us educators at all times.  It’s not about the tool, it’s about the learning!

So, in that vein, let me say that I have really, really been wanting to engage in conversations about important learning episodes where technology is used/needed, but is also simply a tool to support the engagement, learning and skill improvement that is occurring. Too many times we find a cool tool and then force the learning into the use of the tool.

As @bengrey says (http://bit.ly/z5iMg),

bengrey We absolutely must stop focusing on teaching technology and move instead to learning through it.10:09 PM Oct 2nd from TweetDeck

So, does it help to have sites like “iPod Ideas” or “Ways to use Wikis”?  Or should  we instead be talking about and sharing specific ways to teach fractions and decimals or quotation marks or the seven continents? Okay, maybe that’s too skill-driven–too centered on minute discrete skills…

So,  would it help for us each to post a favorite/best carried out/most-learning-happened lesson for others to see and learn from? Okay, maybe that’s too activity driven…

Do we want to share websites that help us craft amazing essential questions, or enduring understandings or desired outcomes?  Or is working on those too cerebral for many of us? (Do we use those in our lessons?)

We do a lot of “just found this” on twitter, and people have bookmarked and favorited THOUSANDS of websites on social bookmarking sites like Delicious and Diigo–but how often do we go back to those? (I’ll be honest here–organization of things like this is NOT my forte–I learned a LONG time ago I could just ask my colleagues things like, “What was that site that allowed you to put text in and then it would turn the words into a visual representation of the words used in that text?” and 5 people would respond “wordle.com” within 24 hours or shorter. . . so why spend my time maintaining a website of links, when there are people who enjoy doing that?) Instead, I remember the names of people who do that well already–@jacatlett, @kellyhines, @keisawilliams, OR I utilize the brain of all brains, IMHO, @mtechman, who, if she can’t immediately name it and the URL or doesn’t know exactly where to put her finger on the resource you’re asking about, will hunt until she finds it, because she enjoys the SEARCH and the joy of being successful at finding it!!

For Melissa, It’s not about power–or getting recognition for being the one who found it for you–it’s about successfully providing a service she sees as necessary and that a teacher/librarian does for people. It’s about using the technology to do her job and do it well, and be helpful at the same time. She’s intrinsically driven to help people find what they need. Melissa does what Ben talks about–she learns through the use of technology ALL the time, and then shares that knowledge with us all on Twitter.

So if I really, really want to engage in conversations about important learning episodes where technology is used/needed, but is also simply a tool to support the engagement, learning and skill improvement that is occurring, I guess I’ll start by sharing some of MY stories and seeing if anyone reacts to them. Anyone want to share theirs, too? If so, tag it with #sharing on Twitter.  🙂

World Peace Game-And An Example Of Big Picture Thinking

Week before last I listened to an interview with a teaching friend, John Hunter, about the premier of a documentary being made around him and a game he invented called World Peace. (See the You Tube Video here: John Hunter explaining his World Peace game. ) John is  a gifted resource teacher in my division and he described his job as one where he “sets up a situation so students have to stumble through the unknown and discover for themselves how to do it.”

His game is one that has evolved over the 30+ years he’s been teaching and he clearly is a teacher who doesn’t mind the students being in control of their learning. Heck, he even talks in this interview about supporting that, and that once the game begins, it is out of his hands. John is an amazing teacher, thinker and colleague and it’s a great pleasure to work in a system where I have relatively regular contact with him, even though he’s in a another school. If you are in Charlottesville, VA on February 21, 2010, please attend the premier of this documentary at the Paramount Theatre. I guarantee it will amaze and astound you and give you food for thought.

In this interview, John also speaks to the ease/relief/ability to be this creative because he works with kids who have already learned the minimum state standards, so they can explore these bigger questions of life. I think all gifted teachers have some of this feeling in us. Because of the students’ abilities with whom we work, we DO have more latitude in what we teach in many situations. That’s both a good and a bad thing.

It’s good because we can meet these very, very bright kids at the level at which they think without them being slowed down by thinkers who may not make the intuitive leaps they do, who may not have the background of information they do, and who may not have the confidence to challenge them as they think aloud. This experience isn’t about elitism, but about allowing students the opportunities to think with others who think at their speed, at the depth they do, and who question the world as they often do.

It’s bad because all teachers do not feel they have the latitude to teach this way with all students–to explore big questions of life and tie their lessons into essential questions that support students making those connections between topics, between concepts and between understandings that are universal and that deepen their understanding of the world.

I have a teacher in my  school, though, who is attempting to teach to that level with ALL of her students in math. This teacher has developed a structure that is based on the ideas behind the “Daily Five” in literacy. She has created a pie, divided into three pieces, which, after brainstorming with several folks, she decided on the categories Becky Fisher (@beckyfisher73) suggested, which were strategy, fluency and numeracy.

Of course these overlap, but by looking at each of these each day, and helping kids thinking metacognitively about these skills, they become more aware of their mathematical thinking and in turn, become better at it. She devises a set of three problems that revolve around big ideas in math and then the children self-select which of the three problem solving tasks they will work on for the week. By Friday they create a poster describing their thinking and explaining the way the solved the problem. That’s the numeracy piece of her pie.

The fluency piece is the arithmetical part of math–direct teaching and practice of basic skills, based on the Virginia Standards of Learning for 4th grade.

The strategy piece of her pie is worked on in several ways–through the posters the students create to show their thinking, the work they do as the week goes along and the classroom conversations that occur around their work. Students love the structure, they are free to develop their own strategies to solve the problems, they talk about the connections between the various problems and they self-select into the groups that sometimes stretch them, sometimes allow them practice and sometimes allow them to lead the problem solving process.

Big picture thinking and teaching and learning–why doesn’t it happen in more classrooms? How can we restructure our schools so that it can be pervasive and the norm rather than the outlier?

Meeting People, Sharing Stories

Okay, so this afternoon I have been working to figure out what I have to say and after about three hours, I think this blog may turn into two or three like several others have.  It’s not that I deliberately wait until I have several to write, but that in thinking about writing one, I find I have several blogs to write.

Chad Ratliff (@chadratliff) has had an immense impact on my thinking, and he doesn’t even realize it, I don’t think.  I began following him on Twitter sometime this year, and started following some of his tweeple as well from tracing back his conversations. He is an entrepreneur, an educator, a thinker and a friend, not necessarily in that order. ( I suspect all of those take back seat to his roles of  Dad and Husband MUCH of the time!) Anyway, Chad and I started talking on Twitter, he began following folks from Albemarle Schools and to make a long story short, he attended a conference with us (where I had the honor  and pleasure of introducing him around) and he wound up working in our school system. (I’m not taking any credit for that–he is an amazing person we were lucky to have join us!)

Before that, he was taking classes, running a business (or maybe 2 or 3 of them), keeping his hand in education and tweeting to people in all of those endeavors. How we connected I don’t remember, but what I do know is that I started following some business people from all over, which I never would have said I would do. Through Chad, I found some educators in Iowa (like @RussGoerend, whom I have an ongoing competition with about whether VA or Iowa has more notable tweeters) and from Russ I got to some other amazing thinkers, and it goes on and on. . .

But, really, what this blog post is about is the importance of social networking: We participate and connect with people who think like we do. We interact, and sometimes argue with or question people who think differently.  We sometimes watch and “lurk” on conversations others  have, watching the stories unfold in front of us.   We come back to our online connections, to the people we have met and come to know online because of the power of stories–the connections we make through sharing with each other the thoughts, questions, strengths and weaknesses we have–and sharing the struggles and the solutions we find.

See I Finally Get It–Why Social Networking Is So Important for another insight into social networking as story.

So, back to why I started by writing about Chad:

I haven’t seen him since he joined us.  I’ve tweeted very little since then, as a matter of fact, because it’s been the beginning of school and I’ve just been darn busy. When I have been on Twitter, I’ve been furiously reading, trying to catch some of the nuggets my PLN shares. Chad’s tweeted me a few links and DM’d to make sure I was okay, but mostly since he got here, I haven’t been in contact much.

That doesn’t matter.

I follow his conversations still and have followed some amazing thinkers because of him–and I constantly learn through their tweets as well. Twitter–and the connections people make on it– continues to amaze me.  I am learning from so many people all over the world because thoughtful practitioners are willing to share and give so much.

I am so appreciative of all the people who share with me online–I thank you all for sharing the stories in your life.

And, thanks, Chad, for helping me follow some people who have certainly stretched my thinking through the stories of their lives.

“I Live Teaching As My Doing.” (Chapter 2)

I live teaching as my doing.

Been thinking about that a lot this morning, as there is a team of teachers at my school that I am working with to understand just what my job is as a gifted resource teacher, and that I am struggling to find a happy medium with as we try to meet the needs of the gifted kids in their group.

These teachers are all very good, if not great, teachers.  They work hard, care about the kids, constantly seek out new learnings for themselves, and thoughtfully implement plans they believe will meet their students’ learning needs. These are NOT worksheet driven classes; they are active classrooms where kids learn and teachers know what their kids know and what they don’t. The kids are happy, the parents are happy, and they have great track records with state tests as well. Lots to celebrate with this team and their work.

However, there are some highly gifted math thinkers in this group that I worry about, and my worry seems to offend the teachers. What they don’t seem to get is that it is my job to worry about those kids and to advocate for their thinking to be highly challenged regularly. When I ask questions, it’s not to be critical, but to make sure the gifted kids’ needs are being met, AND to help me know more about how the teachers are differentiating for them.  It’s not because I think I can do it and they can’t. It’s not because I think they’re not meeting the learning needs. It’s because I want to learn from them and think about how we can all get better at this differentiation thing. My job is to help them differentiate better—not to do the academically challenging work with the kids for them.

For me, teaching IS learning.  I don’t know how many times I have been questioning kids, discussing a situation or problem or describing mathematical thinking and strategies and when finished, I realize that I learned just as much, if not more, than my students. Yes, I can say, as Jackie Gerstein does, that “I live teaching as my doing.”

I also live learning as my doing.