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October 5, 2015

Leave it to my grade 3 class to ask questions to lead us into an inquiry.  They often do that. Kids do that.

Their inquiry was: ‘Why do we have so many different ways to get the same answer when doing multiplication’?

We’ve got lattice, partial products, box method…etc.. like too many right? It was a great inquiry.  I wondered the same thing myself. I mean I know ‘why’ but.. why??  When I grew up I remember one way to get the answer. Because the answer was important. Now its about process. I get that too. But still… why not 1 way?

So I posed this question one evening to my go to (my)  Maths Guru, Bruce Ferrington @BruceFerrington  in Canberra, Australia who has an awesome blog on math I might add. He was about to go on holidays so Im glad I pushed him right to the brink of his school days to answer my question. So me being the persistent pestering inquirer I fired off these tweets one evening trying to come to grips with an answer myself:

Why are there so many different math strategies that exist today that (didn’t)? exist when I grew up? 

And more importantly why do we need the different strategies – a Devil’s advocate question…sorry but I wonder why.

Sometimes we teach 5 different ways to get to the same answer (lattice, partial products etc..) Why? – again Devil’s advocate) But I am serious. Does having multiple ways of learning math confuse learners? Or open minds?

So what was very cool is that Bruce took the time to not only to answer our personal inquiry but to involve his own learners well. We got some great responses back and Bruce actually wrote a post here about this whole mini inquiry into my (our) initial question! I shared it with my kids and they were pretty stoked. Maybe not so much the ‘math answer’ but that someone on the globe actually cared enough to respond to our wondering. That was way cool and they kids have talked about it. I meant something to them. (I didn’t tell them, this was unplanned so it was a pleasant unexpected surprise).

Here is what Bruce’s Grade 2 kids thought:

Screenshot 2015-10-05 18.15.26

So now my new wondering (and Bruce I don’t expect a blogpost but Id love some guidance one day ) ;) …Im helping my daughter in Grade 7. She has some tricky pre Algebra stuff. I was a consumer maths guy (in the old days that was the remedial class I guess). I did really well with real life maths stuff. It made sense. Im struggling to help my daughter with some seemingly very abstract math concept and trying even harder to connect these concepts to the real world.

Theres got to be a way I guess..otherwise why would they exist right? Im wondering how many middle school parents out there are a bit dumbfounded as to how to help their kids with homework.

(Homework being a totally separate blogpost all together).

One a side note- how cool is it to have the global connections to tap into when Im stumped, or my students are stumped or have an inquiry and to be able to click a few keys to get help. 

Thanks Bruce.

We ‘Are’ Where We Learn

October 1, 2015

I never knew how crucial a learning space was on a personal level until I moved form a house to a 3 bedroom apartment. I love how @whatedsaid describes learning spaces. Check out @StevenWishart2 too, he has some good stuff on learning spaces.

Now I like my new habitat. we are above a mall, top restos below. A gym. Pool. 20 minutes form school. Paradise really. But I havent established a ‘space’ to learn. Maybe my space doesn’t need to be at home I guess.. but traditionally it has been and thats where I feel comfortable. I had a time to learn as well while studying ..yes I teach and Im a student at the same time. So Ive had to be flexible as learners are I guess and study,read, think after my kids go to bed. The problem is that Im pretty tired by that time too so thats not optimal.

I got thinking more about my Grade 3’s learning spaces. I asked them one day, what helps you learn? Are there any spaces in the classroom – or outside the classroom you like to learn? This was a great question (I think) as it make them think. It ended up being a bit of an inquiry where we all went out and found a place that we could learn out best in. And it depended on what we wanted to learn. Do we need quiet, collaboration, movement, stability? We sort of thought the learning space needs to fit our needs and vice versa which was pretty cool because this whole idea was pretty much a think aloud about21403076088_8e594767a2_z our learning space. A few weeks ago we talked about changing our learning space,….meh..and we did but het we still have 4 walls and thats the reality but we made it our 4 walls. We more or less personalised it, we didn’t change it so much.

But it got kids thinking, can we go outside to work? The library ? What about under the shady Pattimura tree at the heart of our campus? Being mindful of supervision I said yep (sometimes) if we can. However this ‘restriction’ doesn’t have to be. At lunch, snack go to your learning space where you feel comfortable, and kids do. I see kids in the library curled up with a good book. Hanging out in spaces they feel good with. We’ve got an awesome library and library staff. I love our library. Its a learning space I can relate to and obviously the learners can as well as its almost always full with kids. Im not a librarian but that must be some success criteria- that people love to come and hang out.

So Im looking for ideas. How do you determine your learning spaces? What works for you? Id love to know what you all think, experience.


Creativity Crunch

September 24, 2015

I surveyed my Grade 3s last week. I wanted to find out what they liked and didn’t like doing in class, after al we have been together for about 2 moths now. Feedback is important right?  I gave them the day to think about it- with a few reminders that this reflection was their ‘exit slip’ for the day and we also spent some time on why this question was important and more importantly why I wanted their honest opinion. To make things interesting for them and so they can learn better. And to be quite frank, kids are brutally 21023536784_4b07f05ba9_zhonest, maybe which is why I like working and learning from them.

So I discovered a lot of things last week about my teaching, reflected on how I can ‘teach’ for a better word, through a more inquiry based lens but I realised I needed to know more about my learners. I got to peek into the learners brains and find out a little bit more about them and what they are passionate about. We have something I call ‘Choice Time’ We have an agreement about what is good use of choice time, how we interact with each other.

During Choice Time in Grade 3 we:

  • talk, share and discuss
  • create, build and craft
  • are respectful, responsible and open-minded

So what did my Grade 3s enjoy the most? Well, Choice Time of course. It no surprise that we all want to learn more when we are interested in something. It was the overwhelming response and a frank one. So I’ve been ‘re-inspired’ reading Sir Ken Robinson new book: Creative Schools. I also watched this Sir Ken Robinson Interview the other night that was pretty inspirational.

I also got inspired by watching Cain’s Arcade so I thought what a great provocation. It’s over 10 minutes long if you haven’t seen it, I played  3 minutes of it and then stopped to get some learner feedback and I had 20 heads look at me and say ‘Hey!! Let it play!’ They were that engaged. The power of kids connecting with kids (Thanks Kath for that reminder last week).

So we watched the whole video and they thought it was awesome. It created a lot of discussion. Now I didn’t really plan to do anything with Cain’s Arcade other than show them but we starting to have these discussions about making stuff and what happens when you make stuff (create). So I got a butchers paper and write down what I though captured their ideas: “What does it mean to create’? We then put down our own ideas, some asked if they could write more than one idea. We had that many. While they were doing this I whipped up a quick challenge/engagement/task do try during Choice Time. It looked like this and they eagerly accepted.

Screenshot 2015-09-24 12.28.15

What happened was the learners had an opportunity to create, but more importantly explain the why and how and 21026398653_6d6c69f7c0_zcommunicate and work with others if they chose to and oddly enough they didn’t only work with the best friends. The class was somewhat noisy, but a busy noise like bees in a hive. Now Ive done this before in different ways but what I never got students to do was to document. They were responsible for showing the process. They got out their iPads. Some made time-lapse videos, other took photos and put them in order in Slides, Book Creator or simply beamed them up on the screen and said some words.

The point was we were moving, sharing, creating, talking and learning. Maybe not about what was in the textbook that day or even within the inquiry unit but that’s ok. For me I felt I honoured their request to ‘build more stuff’. Sure I could have linked it in with Math, our Unit, Science…whatever and put a bunch of learning intentions or standards to it (and maybe I will, or maybe I wont) but it I felt at that moment that I really connected with the class, they connected with each other and their passions and I could see them so very engaged with each other. It was a very spontaneous inquiry into being creative and it was an authentic one.

I know why some teachers might find this a challenge . Time especially. (I do too, so I’m not saying I’m some expert or do this all day every day). Its messy, chaotic but I really saw learning and creativity at its best and that’s the kind of learning space I want to be in as a teacher and a learner.

Learning to Learn (the best I can)

September 12, 2015

That’s the big idea/concept of our current unit. Learning to Learn.Focus_6781952747_m

Its kind of what Im doing now especially in a new school, new habitat meeting new creatures as I find my way around socially and professionally. So far, as I go through this unit together with my kids, there’s a lot to think about, reflect on. Yes learning is a life long process and not limited to a unit of study.

Some cool things that I can reflect on over the last month is getting to know the kids. Moving to a new school and city, it all goes back to the kids and relationships you develop with the kids. Together over the last month we’ve had ups and downs as we get to know and understand each other and the expectations for not only the learners but for me as well. These include creating an essential agreement together, hashing out our expectations for readers and writers workshops and our expectations about technology and how we use it. Its a collaborative process.

One big question that stuck with me right the start was how do we know what helps us learn and how can we use that to help us learn? We talked a lot about that. Obviously we all have different needs and wants and dreams.  Now coming from a small school to a large school, there are more needs and thus more challenges. But we broke it down to what basic needs are similar and  what basic needs are different. Then we discussed what needs we need to for learning, again similarities and differences. We then tried to map out ways we can be independent learners to put those needs into action. It was a mess at first. Just understanding the concept about learning, how we learn…took time (and is developing), and will continue to take time but finally came to an understanding and agreement. After creating our general class agreements we were able to dig deeper into our own personal learning. which then led to some goal setting (one goal not 10) and how we get there and more importantly what helps us get there. I set a goal with kids for myself as well.

So here we are, we have our agreements, our goals and some idea about what we need to help us learn. Now the action. So we are in the process of ‘restructuring’ the classroom habitat. Some need quite spaces, others need more time to finish. Other learners need me to be more visual when I give explanations while some asked for smaller group work to help them. Some said ‘leave me alone and let me have go by myself’.  So I thought that was pretty cool. I got to know how they need to learn and more importantly they got to know how they needed to learn. Is it perfect? Did this work all the time? Nope. Did we have some lessons together that were a ‘hot mess’ YEP. But thats part of learning to learn for the kids and for me.

New Learnings and Breadcrumbs

August 1, 2015

Change. Changing schools and cities (let alone countries) is tough for international educators. We are privileged enough to be in this profession. Its stressful yet exciting. I for one am leaving one great school for another. One school that as a family we have grown roots as a community. Its tough to leave but its not so far.. down the road about 200km to Jakarta but it still tugs the heart strings a bit knowing you’re leaving a community.

This week we got to know our new community. What a great experience. We already feel right at home and are excited in our new roles and our new school. One of my goals this year is to learn more, be open minded to things. To really take on feedback and follow up on it. Im stating this now, before having to fill out school professional goals, or whatever is in store for me. Im interested in the next step in my new habitat here. If you read my post last year around this time, I had some views on goals setting in past blog

My vision is about dreams, how can I better the world, make me the best educator I can be and learn from others. How can I help others. Its about that ‘moonshot’ thinking and challenging my own thinking and way of doing things that excite me. To be wrong, to try something impossible. So you may think yeah, stupid.. well I want to try, and I want the learners to try and that should be ambitious enough for any educator. Its why I love working with the kids.

I don’t need a rubric or checklist or ‘observation’  (always) to tell me how Im doing. Or a mid-end of year interview with and admin.I believe that learning is continuous. It’s just in time. Its meaningful. Often its not pre planned or predetermined. Learning comes along in various ways and you may not even know youre learning a new skill that will shape your path.

Wish me luck.

What do you wanna do with your life?

June 9, 2015

Remember this?

What have we here, laddie? Mysterious scribblings? A secret code? No! Poems, no less! Poems, everybody!The laddie reckons himself a poet! “Money get back / I’m all right, Jack / Keep your hands off my stack / New car / Caviar / Four star daydream / Think I’ll buy me a football team.” Absolute rubbish, laddie…. Get on with your work. – Pink Floyd

Not allowing kids to dream, wonder or think. Reflecting on my experience in school was similar to this (from Pink Floyd The Wall) frequently I’d be discouraged to succeed in life by my teachers, as long haired  leather jacket ‘rocker’ teachers loved pigeon holing me as dumb. A trouble maker. A failure. How awesome is it that I’m a teacher now. And a good one I think (hope).

I think we all remember that one teacher from high school who influenced us. Reached us. .. Learners need our support. Our encouragement. Its our job to help learners find their passion.Growing up with this silly Twisted Sister video below  resonated with me. It is ridiculous but made me think. It funny on many levels. As a student in secondary I never did homework. Never. Why?  Teachers could never justify the need. I always got excellent grades. My folks didnt mind much so long as I got good grades which I did.

Now I’m a father of a pre teenage daughter and we’ve had this conversation’ What do you want to do with your life’? Its such a poor question to ask. The answer is simple. I (we) don’t know (yet). It’s a great answer. How can we expect kids to know what they want to do if we don’t let kids experience things for themselves. How can he expect them to know what they want until they are ready, or have something to base their decisions on. Make their own choices, good or bad.  As a teacher this makes sense. As a father this is scary. Very scary. But being there to help with good, and especially bad decisions is what we need to be doing.

Perhaps my dislike for my own education (or lack of ) drives me to change it.

So get on with your work..repeat after me ‘An acre is the area of a rectangle whose length is one furlong and whose width is one chain….’ – Pink Floyd

The Value of Human Interactions

May 23, 2015

Ive noticed this a lot lately and after a visit with a good friend and mentor in China last week  I was glad to have this most valuable conversation to get me thinking and reflecting.#time #clock_7907407544_m

What I’ve noticed is the inability for us to often have a real conversation sometimes. Case in point, I noticed my pre teen daughter and her friends walking the hall with their devices in hand. Four of them. All seemingly having a conversation but at the same time looking down at their screens. I started to think, were they really listening to each other? What were they doing on their devices anyway? I got thinking.. I do that sometimes too. Sometimes I try to multi task or finish up something on my device (a tweet, when someone comes to see me. Am I too ‘busy’ to value their time? Because thats the message I am sending.

The next time someone comes to talk to me face to face I will:

  1. Realise that it must be important enough to come and see me and value that visit
  2. Close my device,or at least  lower the lid
  3. Face that person and look at them
  4. Give them 100 percent of my attention
  5. Be an active listener and not a passive one
  6. Value that interaction and time

My friend and I talked at great lengths that most valuable resource we have as teachers (and perhaps as people) is time. Time for our learners, our own children and each other. The next time I am ‘busy’ – busy is still the boss of me these days as we wrap up our school year and plan for a change of schools, new city, completing my studies- working away on laptop or reading the latest posts of my favorite blogs, or reading some interesting tweets and someone comes up to me in person, my goal is to remember the 6 step programme and put it into action.

Because people and time are something we all value.


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