Tag Archive | learning

Learning Is Uncomfortable, Until It Works

I want to push my students in their learning. One of my biggest and most harped-on topics is making mistakes and learning from them. A lot of times, my students are quite resistant to this, since it is uncomfortable. However, that’s my job — to make them uncomfortable and push them to learn. It’s not fun sometimes, and often times, it is downright unenjoyable for them. Then they figure it out. And it’s not so bad after all.

What’s got my goat lately, as my students would say, is that I hadn’t really figured this would apply to me. I’m all for being a lifelong learner, and I strive to be a “reflective practitioner” daily. I’m not entirely sure why I figured that learning shouldn’t also put me out of my comfort zone. I didn’t really realize it until Wednesday this week.

On Monday, we began analyzing budgets. I partnered with my friend who teaches math in Ituna, SK, and we created a budget swap. Each class prepared budgets, then we swapped budgets to analyze. If we were in university, we would have totally gotten A’s. No doubt.

Flickr Photo Credit to Jeannie Kays. All Rights Reserved.

Sometimes Learning Can Be Uncomfortable — Not Just for Your Biceps
Flickr Photo Credit to Jeannie Kays. All Rights Reserved.

On Tuesday, I handed out the budgets from Ituna. The students whined and complained. They were a bit of a disaster. They didn’t know where to start (despite my awesome handout). They didn’t want to work. They didn’t want to exist in a productive fashion. To say the least, I was really rattled. I nearly scrapped the project on Tuesday, but I thought I’d give it one more day.

Wednesday rolled around, and just as the bell was ringing, I could feel myself cringing at the thought of what was to come. If Tuesday was any predictor, I was in for a hell of an hour. I took attendance, then asked the class if they had any questions before they got to work. The only question was, “Miss Thibeault, I think we should just talk today. Can we not work at all?”

Ugh. Weighing the options, I cut a deal. “You can have a ten minute break to talk/text/whatever so long as you work hard for 30 minutes.” To my surprise, they all agreed.

Surprise number two followed shortly. My students started asking me really good questions about budgeting. They were going to town on the budgets they’d received. Here I was thinking that I’d failed them as a teacher, that they hadn’t learned a thing about budgeting and were destined for homelessness, and they start working together to reconstruct and revise these budgets. They were commenting that some people needed to “re-examine their expectations for their life.” I may have laughed out loud, since many of them overlooked that key piece in their own budgets.

Surprise number three happened 31 minutes into class. I glanced up at the clock. No one even noticed that the most productive thirty minutes of their lives whizzed by without them noticing. One student noticed ten minutes before class was over. I agreed to let them take a break for the last few minutes, but to my surprise number four, almost no one packed up. Their conversations revolved around the budgets they were analyzing.

I guess that was a really long-winded way of me saying that it was really uncomfortable for me to learn the lesson of perseverance in the classroom. But, boy oh boy, did it feel fantastic when I learned it. My friend and I invested a lot of time and energy in creating this wonderful learning experience for our students. I’m so glad I stuck with it. Maybe I really do know what I’m doing, even if it isn’t comfortable all the time.


Looking Back and Looking Forward

It appears that I’ve grown up in the last little while. I graduated university, I got a job, and now I’m home-hunting. To be honest, I’m a little bit lost. Everything I’ve come to know about life as it exists has been practically turned upside down. I was plotting out the direction and intent of this post while I was showering earlier (after all, what better place to do some good, serious thinking) when I came to revelation. I was thinking about how everything has changed — I’m moving out as soon as I find a place to live in this thriving Saskatchewan economy; I’m no longer going to university, at least for a few years; I’m no longer unemployed within the teaching profession now that I’ve successfully transitioned from jobless to substitute to full-time teacher in the fall; and, lastly, I’ve made the jump from student to teacher. That’s the revelation. I haven’t made the jump. The day I do make the jump is the day I better stop teaching.

I never want to stop learning. The avenues for me are endless. I’m starting in at a new school in a new division from the one I interned at. There are several teachers there that I can and will learn from. I’ve got a whole new set of students to learn from. I’ve got a SmartBoard, so no doubt I’ll have several “technical difficulties” to learn from. I’ve got a fantastic and still growing PLN with this blog and twitter. I’ve got as many websites as I can find, then 1351215431482354 more, to discover. I am so lucky to begin my career in such a saturated environment. Oh, and I’ve got 8 boxes of textbooks and resources from two very special teachers in my life.

Yet with all this “ammunition” ready to go, I am still scared out of my mind. I want to do great things. I want to teach every student who walks through my door. I want to be right in there at the forefront of innovative education because my students deserve it. But I’m still burdened with the thoughts of “what if.”

Needless to say, I’ll be spending my July and August (well part of August – I have a trip planned for part of August too) balancing getting as much prep done as possible, working, and twirling. Hopefully I get in some quality sleeping and a cup of coffee or two with friends too! I know that plans can only go so far, but I’d rather have plans that change than no plans at all!

PS. New posts (since I’ve been a bit lazy and neglected my blog for a while) should be popping up over the next couple of days!

And So It Ends… But Not Really.

I think the stars aligned. Why, you ask? Somehow in the chaos of my final semester, three of my classes all required (well, two required and one was optional) a personal project that was rather open ended. Between my Math Education, Moral Education, and Technology in the Classroom classes, I found a common niche. This niche was in a flipped classroom. Anyone who’s been reading my blog knows that lately, I’ve been somewhat obsessed with them. That is partly due to how awesome I think they are, and partly due to the fact that I’ve had a monster project involving them for the last two months. I elected to do a unit within the Math 9 Curriculum on Polynomials. For more information and a better run down of the project, click here.

So how does this project tie into a critical project for Moral Education? Well, the way I see it, there are two ways to interpret the phrase “moral education:” (1) The act of educating students about morality, or (2) education that is inherently moral. I chose to focus more on the second definition, since we covered the first definition a lot more in class. For my Math Ed class, I created the flipped unit, but at the end of it, I was left asking questions about the equity of using a regular assessment model. How fair was it to assess my students the way that I’d grown up being tested, the way they’ve probably always been tested, and the way that most teachers still test? This, in fact, is less of an assessment and more of an evaluation. How could I build authentic and informative assessment into this unit? I looked at two different ways, comparing and contrasting them with each other as well as with current Quiz-Quiz-Test Model. I came up with a learning contract that uses standards-based grading and an assessment through learning that uses the material covered in the unit to bridge the gap between grade nine and grade ten math, all while enabling me to assess each skill that the student needs to demonstrate in order to fully understand polynomials for the grade nine requirements.

However, I’m not about the ignore the first definition of moral education. Within this classroom, there will need to be a lot of discussion about equity, fairness, and ethics in math education. These conversations need to take place in order to justify why I would even consider challenging the status quo. These conversations could be overtly teaching morals and ethics. Implicitly, I am morally educating my students by treating each student with great respect — so much respect that I want to customize their learning for each of them and give them the opportunity to shine come assessment time, however that may manifest itself. More importantly, I want to provide them with a desire to learn, not just  force them to memorize, material. Showing this kind of respect for their intelligence, effort, and learning is modeling good citizenship for my students.

As for the critical side of my project, I have to say it was really intriguing and fun to start to dig into challenging the typical math classroom. I started off by flipping a classroom — a big change to begin with — then I challenged how the videos were made by pushing for a more inquiry-based approach. Then I got to challenge the assessment of such a classroom. This project has really helped me rethink how I want my classroom to look, and it has certainly made me more conscious of justifying why I would do something in a classroom. Is it just because that’s the way I was taught and it worked for me, or is it because it is truly best practice?

So I sat down in front of a video camera one afternoon/evening and I spoke. I gave myself a list of questions, many of which made the final cut, while some did not. I will apologize for a few things: firstly, I didn’t realize how daunting talking to a tiny lens would be, so I had several prolonged “ums” that I edited out, but not as smoothly as I would’ve liked; secondly, toward the end of filming, I started to get a scratchy throat, so my voice gets a bit raspy; and thirdly, it’s quite lengthy–as in it is over an hour–so you may want to grab a coffee and a comfortable chair. Other than that, I am quite proud of how this turned out. I’m glad I took the chance to sit down and reflect out loud. Even the editing process was quite reflective for me. Listening and having an internal dialogue with myself was a really cool feeling, and it has certainly pushed my thinking further and inspired me to keep thinking about these tensions.

If the video doesn’t play, you can view it on Vimeo here. Special thanks to the Vimeo staff for helping me through my uploading difficulties. They have a fantastic staff that helped me troubleshoot through their well-kept help forum. Much appreciated!

It seems like it is time to say that this project has finally come together, from the practical math education side of the polynomials unit, to the moral side of assessment, to the technological side of making this whole thing (the unit as well as how the project is assembled, researched, and presented). While I can officially say, “I’m done,” I need to add in a “… for now.” This project will never be done. It will always be a work-in-progress. It will always be evolving, and I never want to stop learning about it.

Flipped Classroom – EMTH Reflection

*Please be advised: this is not a new post. It is the reflection that used to be on the “Flipped Classroom – Math 9 Polynomials Unit” Page. I just needed to reorganize a bit.

For my final project in EMTH 450 with Rick, I had free range to do anything I liked that pertained to education and math. The possibilities were endless. I changed my mind about 1,000,000 times. I finally settled on what I figured to be a manageable project of creating a set of videos to “flip” a unit in the Math 9 Curriculum. During my internship, I had the opportunity to teach Math 9 for the full 4 months, and I loved every minute of it. While for the most part, I liked what the textbook had to offer, I was not particularly impressed with how it delivered Polynomials. They came packaged in two clunky, non-consecutive chapters. I knew that I needed to avoid using the textbook, so I went hunting for some resources and made up my own work-package for the students, as independently from the textbook as possible.

Since Rick gave me free range to do whatever I fancied (within reason), I decided that I wanted to revamp the way I taught polynomials. Little did I know, that this project actually helped revamp the way that I want to teach in general. I’ll say it one thousand times over — my internship was great. Now, I think I can be more than that. I can see it, so I decided to push myself with this project.

This unit is entirely flipped. There are eleven video lessons, eleven worksheets, a “What Can You Do With This?,” and a project. The assessment is an outcome/indicator-based assessment guided by a learning contract. There is no unit exam. There are no formal quizzes. The closest thing to a quiz is a “skill check.”

I struggled with having this flipped classroom avoid direct instruction. Part of flipping for me was to avoid direct instruction. It seemed that it was inevitable, so I decided that if I can’t fix it, I might as well embrace it in a weird sort of way. Instead of making long and boring videos, I decided to keep them short and simple. I did my darnedest to ensure that my worksheets were inquiry-based. My theory behind this was to give a bit of instruction, just to send the students in the right direction, then let them work in-class on exploring each concept thoroughly. Answers will all be posted on the wall (answer keys coming soon). Students are invited to collaborate with one another.

Part of me thinks I may have had a mental back-lash during this project too. During my internship, I found that students felt bombarded with problems, and there was not nearly enough drill and practice. Both have their place, but I felt that problem solving was interfering with the students understanding the concepts concretely. I decided to not include the “token problems” at the end of each worksheet. Instead, I designed each worksheet to act as a set of notes, since the students wouldn’t be taking any anyhow. Each sheet contains what I think are the essential questions/big ideas (i.e. Explain in your own words how to divide a monomial by a monomial), as well as several examples. Because the answers are posted and students have no set “time limits” for each assignment (which was a big pull for me to the learning contract), every student will get every single question right. They have access to their peers and to me, so finding the correct answers is only a matter of effort.

To “address” word problems, I decided to have a unit project. This satisfied the old-school innate need deep down inside to have a unit assessment. “At least it’s not an exam,” is what I told myself. I’m not one to undermine or under-appreciate a good word problem, but at least a unit project ties together all the concepts and involves a “real world” situation. It’s a little bit less contrived. I decided to go with an area-based project, which lead me to think about the areas in floor plans. About ten minutes after staring at my computer hoping it would finish my project for me, it dawned on me. I should do a WCYDWT with a floor plan, and then ask the students to work in reverse by creating a floor plan and designing the dimensions on their own. All of a sudden, the “contrived” unit problem sat a lot better with me (and it squeaked in another teaching strategy beyond direct instruction).

My last word about this project, I promise: I am so glad I opted to work with a learning contract. It enabled me to build an outcome/indicator-based assessment and evaluation system that was free of rigid timelines and stress-(and/or vomit-) inducing exams. One of my initial concerns beyond the direct instruction bit was that flipped classrooms somehow guarantee only 20 minutes of homework per night. What about the student who doesn’t finish the in-class work? Does he/she have extra homework? So much for the nice guarantee. If we stick to the guarantee, then what good does it do for that student? Conversely, what about the student who finishes in fifteen minutes? They now have to “kill” 45 minutes. Yes, I could load them with extra work, but I’m going to challenge them anyway. Why not let every student work at his or her own pace? A learning contract does just that. To keep things reasonable, I will set a time-guideline and a conservative completion due date. Aside from that, every student can be working on what he or she needs to be working on.

As always, I welcome, encourage, appreciate, and pray for your comments to pour in. The more feedback I get, the better I’ll become.

Special Thanks to the following: Dan Meyer, Joe BowerSophia (They have fantastic Twitter Support), Kyle WebbRick SeamanEvolving Classroom, and Andy Schwen

This is my utopia right now. I can’t wait to put it into practice.

Final Reflection

For my Technology in the Classroom class, I’ve been tasked with summarizing my learning from the last four months. This in and of itself is a learning process, since there is quite a bit of reflecting. Why so much reflecting? Well, we have a 5 – 7 minute time limit. For me, this means trying to figure out exactly what is the most important stuff to squeeze into my video reflection. Anyone who’s read my blog before (and probably anyone who is reading it now) knows that I am, shall we say, not exactly short-winded. Part of this meant having to edit down each audio clip and video clip to be comprehensible, seamless, and somewhat brief. Not an easy task.

At the very least, I’ve got everything I wanted to say said, and the majority of it made it into my video reflection. I tried to stray from the traditional “what did I learn”-style reflection, and looked more at “how is this going to apply to my life/career”-style. While I did end up mashing the two together, I’m still happy with the end product.


PS. Even though this class is over, I’ll still be thinking, learning, reflecting, and blogging.

On Checking Out

I love learning. Love, love, love it. While I have a particular interest in math, math education, English, English education, education in general, baton twirling, sports in general, dancing, the arts in general, etc., I like to learn about anything. Anything that builds my knowledge, I tend to find some benefit someway.

So what does this have to do with anything? Well, I’m frustrated. I’m frustrated for some students in my graduating class, as well as teachers who have their degrees, that they have checked out. They think that getting the almighty degree is the end of the learning road. I’ve done my darnedest to ensure that I’m milking these last four months of my degree for all they are worth. Three down and one to go, and I think I’m doing a pretty good job. I’m seeing students around me with a different feeling though — they are making comments or acting in a way that suggests they are thinking, “Three down and one to go. Thank goodness. I want out of here. I’m just putting in my time for a degree. This is all make-work stuff.”

It's frustrating to see these metaphorical signs around me when I really do care. Flickr photo credit to justinjagged.

I’m here to say (and vent – sorry for the rant) that no, it’s not a make-work project! What you make of it is the work you put into it. I don’t think I can say that enough. Any good dieter (oxymoron, maybe?) knows that it’s all a matter of calories consumed versus calories expended. Same in learning — what you put in to it needs to be equal to what you get out of it. I want to get as much as possible out of the next four weeks as I possibly can, so I am working my butt off, and doing so rather happily. I can honestly say that staying up until 3 a.m. is actually kind of pleasurable if you like what you are doing. It all boils down to motivation. I am motivated to learn (on most days), because I love it; whereas, it seems that some of my classmates are just motivated to get the heck out of there.

I’m publicly stating this now — I have learned more in the last three months, with the exception of my internship, than I did in the three years leading up combined. I learned a boat-load in those three years. I had to, but I have learned so much more as a result of my internship, thinking about what I did well, what I could have done better, and what I can do to fix it. How can I be a better teacher? How can I be a better role model? How can I be a better learner? None of this growth would have been possible without an internship, but I sure am glad I try to stop growing after internship.

All I can to these prospective teachers is this: when will you ever get the chance to find something you are passionate about, learn about it from at least five experts each week, interact with fellow teachers about ground-breaking education ideas, design the perfect earth-shattering/mind-blowing/kick-butt unit just because you can? When? I don’t know about you, but unless they add another 10 hours to the day once we start working, it won’t be happening.  This isour time. We can reflect. We can grow. We can conjecture new ideas. We can research. We can find things we are passionate about.

How you handle all this is up to you, but for me, I’m going to take advantage of it. Why wouldn’t I?

Blogging and Twitter… But Wait! There’s More!

Lately, I’ve been loving the PD I’ve experienced through twitter and this blog. You can read my timely post about it here. In my ECMP 455 class, we had the opportunity to listen to Chad Lehman (@imcguy) as he spoke about free professional development that is all available online. Here I thought that I was rocking PD with twitter and my blog, but I can’t wait to expand my development with some of the great tools he introduced.

I’m not sure I can do all of these justice, but here are a few that really stuck with me:

Every year, K12Online holds a conference for teachers. Why is this so remarkable? Because it’s online, that’s why. They also archive all of their conference materials and presentations, so anyone can go back and find what they need to. The lovely blend of synchronous (for those that have a schedule that matches up, which I hope mine does for this year) and asynchronous (for those of us who can’t “make it” to the conference) makes it easy for anyone to experience professional development.

The next thing Chad spoke about was Classroom 2.0 Live, which is available on iTunes. I would never have guessed that I can get professional development on my iPod. Also available on iTunes is iTunesU. If anyone has any advice on these specific tools I would love to hear from you. From my understanding, they are resources that have many different podcasts and videos on different educational topics. They are all professionally done. Needless to say, I am excited to start exploring.

I’ve been watching TED talks for a while now, and I took TED breaks during marking while I was doing my internship. Now that TED is launching TED Ed, I am even more ecstatic. Aside from TED Ed (say that ten times fast!), TED has literally thousands of videos to watch. This can be daunting, but with some handy searching, finding some good talks isn’t all that hard. I’ve found some of the best TED Talks aren’t “on education,” but rather I can relate something they speak about to education or my life. Sometimes, taking that step back or going at it from a different angle puts things into perspective

iLearn Technology Blog was also given as a resource for us to use. You can never get your hands on enough info about technology. It’s an edublog that focuses on integrating technology into the classroom. It’s great because it doesn’t stay too focused on one thing — it really surveys all different technology available.

Similarly, FreeTech4Teachers.com has regular posts about different types of technology available. It focuses each post on a different technology, sort of giving it a review, with practical applications and how it can be used. I appreciate that it looks at some sites/technology that don’t necessarily directly market to education, then gives places/spaces to integrate them into the classroom/staffroom/school.

My eyes have been opened yet again. My PD is about to get a whole lot better. I’m finding that I’m also getting more efficient with my professional development. I know I should be using something like delicious, but between Google Reader and my browsers bookmarks, I’m keeping track of my favourite sites, as well as sites I know I’ll need to refer back to. I’ll be starting a “PD” tag in my bookmarks starting… now!

Thank you Chad for joining us on Monday!

UPDATE: Courtesy of Chad, I present to you his slides from Monday evening. He tweeted me the link, so I thought I better share it with everyone. Enjoy.