"Instagram, Swiffer, and Nest had to compete with consumer habits and perceptions. Breakout products face competition from the formidable inertia powering the status quo," said Jay Samit.
Over coming inertia is hard, it is very hard to do and it is worth celebrating when we do see evidence of it being overcome. Overcoming inertia is the challenge that I am currently raging against on an apparently global scale. I love how Hamish Brewer says we need to change the conversation, and we need to be that change.
We need to change the conversation about what does effective math instruction look like in the classroom (Note, my focus is on mathematics instruction, but I believe all instructions falls under this idea). I am at this weird place in this journey as I don't know if I am crazy or if I am actually on a learning journey.
To be clear, there is nothing wrong with what we consider traditional direct instruction and students often need this guidance to introduce some concepts, skills or review some skills. The problem is when this is the only thing we do to reach students. Most people, yes students are little people, do not truly learn a concept when you lecture at them and they, at best, passively take notes. Students need to be making sense of concepts and they need to talk about their thinking. We need to provide students room to think, to make sense, to wonder, to struggle and to make mistakes. Students don’t need more testing and more worksheets.
So how do we start to change the conversation? How do we overcome that inertia to change? How do we change the conversation and invite you to be the change? How can we not be #relentless for our kids?
It's been a long, long while as this journey takes me places that I've enjoyed going and places that I have had to endure get continue on this journey. My purpose for blogging is to continue to force myself to reflect on the learning as our journey continues, and I want to establish a consistent publishing of quality writing that reflects that journey. To that end, I will figure out if once or twice a month is a frequency that is sustainable both in quality and quantity.
Currently my journey is taking me down a couple of learning paths I'll list in no particular order below:
I am looking forward to growing, reflecting, and rekindling that journey.
Recently, at #Cue16, I saw this on a grander scale. I experienced being better together with passionate, talented, and generous educators. In short, I found my tribe.
Another example of getting better together came from an amazing educator, Steve Wyborney. I am an avid fan of his work and his blog, which lead to something amazing, his work got me very curious.
Diving in, I was inspired to create this synthesis derivative of his work, combined with another math education hero, and a super amazing guy, Andrew Stadel. I had the pleasure of attending Andrew and JR's (JR is another education hero of mine) riveting discussion on Desmos Activity Builder at Cue16.
All that to say, see the #hyperdoc I made to make sense of their wisdom. Throw in a piece by Dan Meyer and Max Ray, and you may begin to see why I'm posting this now.
Moving on, both Andrew and Steve have been very helpful in enabling me to think through these pieces. So I am planning on taking their creations, to the classrooms, with two second grade rooms lined up. We'll be doing a 30 minute (or less) discussion of noticing and building math sense through the students' discoveries.
Pictures of student work and many more discussions to follow on later posts. All this to say, we grow, we learn, we inspire, and we get better together. I hope that the profoundness of this statement never ceases to amaze that young man I was, and the old man I've become.
Your turn: How are you getting better together?
Recently, I was gifted the opportunity to teach a lesson in a seventh grade biology class, known for being a challenging group of learners. Although, the content for learning was heavy on the academic vocabulary, I wanted to engage the learners in a way that would bring their thinking to light, without direct input from me. Whenever vocabulary comes to mind, I immediately think of one of my favorite methods: The Frayer Model. Knowing the population I was serving, and the dependency on heavy academic language, the words of Jon Corippo came to mind, and I wanted to Seacrest the hell out of this lesson, i.e. it was a new opportunity to Iron Chef this lesson.
A little background information, I have tried with limited success to be able to produce a reasonable explanation in a finite amount of time how a group of learners facilitates this process, let alone doing in context without losing momentum with reluctant learners. In addition, I was teaching the students a new method of vocabulary usage with the Frayer model, and I was expecting to teach them the content within the 50 minutes that I had with them. I felt the cards were stacked, but I don’t mind failing and loved the idea of the challenge.
Feeling encouraged by a new understanding of the Iron Chef process, I started the lesson with a quick introduction to get the students ready for learning. Introducing the Frayer Model separately, I chose to use fast food establishments as the non-content specific example for students to get used to that idea. I read and showed mine of Taco Bell, the students then were numbered off 1 to 6, to form the groups of 4 that I needed. The students then sat in their groups of 4, each student chose a number which corresponded to a specific restaurant, and I instructed the students on where to go and what they would do. We interacted in a timed, chunked manner through this process. So the learners were writing their Frayer models while learning the structure of the Iron Chef lesson. We moved from Home groups to Expert groups, then back, it worked so beautifully, I couldn’t believe it. After less than six minutes, I had managed to explain both concepts.
Placing the words on the screen, we followed the same format, the learners were give three minutes to dive into the reading, pull out their information, before we would move. When time was up, I checked they knew where they were going, then I released them to share, if they didn’t finish their Frayer model, they could do so as they shared out. I gave 90 seconds for this, then back to their seats. Two minutes of sharing out whole group, each one writing what the other members of the group had to share, then we were off again with four new words.
Repeating this process, with less time, and the increase of tempo proved beneficial, as the structure wasn’t new anymore, they were able to get through it much quicker. The students also quickly related where they were at and how they needed to finish some pieces.
We were able to cover a large section of reading, discover new words, make associations, and synthesize information with three new structures in less than 50 minutes. Having front loaded the expectation of what was required before the leave, I was able to finish with three minutes of students creating a visual representation of how all the pieces fit together. A projected word wall of things they might consider including added a nice touch. Students surprised me with how much they pulled out of it, and I was able to instruct for less than a total of five minutes total. Not to mention this challenging class more than rose to the occasion of amazing learners, they actually were having fun.
A couple of little things that would facilitate this better next time, is a visual for where students need to go based on their number, that part I was unclear about, especially for the first few times. There is also the additional piece of differentiation for there were a few learners that already knew the academic language and the concepts, so they were done within a minute of the time to fill those pieces out and they weren’t learning as much…so adding or modifying that piece for them would also need to be taken into account…I forgive myself on this piece because I didn’t know the students at all.
Being able to climb Mt Everest in this lesson made my day, especially now that I feel I am able to successfully understand the finer parts of Iron Chef lessons, and being able to clearly communicate that piece without losing the momentum of learning, are huge wins in my book.
I wonder what is the length of time a learner can be actively engaged with a content. In this case, I am looking at a time bound for the youngest learners, Kindergarten in this case. So with the help of my wife and two 7 year-olds (as guest lecturers) I set out to determine if we could provide an engaging mathematical learning opportunity for two hours in Kinder.
The lesson format was a spiral review, though the content was a higher depth of knowledge (DOK) than the learners had previously experienced.
Inspired by a lesson from OpenMiddle, the learners were asked a question about the largest and smallest possible number given two ten frames, one of which is full and the other is not.
Originally, I wanted to just pose the problem, but having some time to think it through with the noble goal of seeing if 5 year-olds could maintain an active cognition for 2 hours, I accepted both challenges.
Now you may notice, I brought in a variety of special weapons, including having two guest lecturers/aides to assist in the engagement…and give the girls quite a unique learning experience…but mind you, I am attempting to keep kids doing math for 2 hours, after lunch, with variations in weather, and spring break around the corner. Needless to say, I needed some assistance. I also introduced a curiosity based bribery with a large box of untold goodies, they could work towards, my goal was to utilize any trick I could, to account for all possible variations.
As personal learning opportunity, I wanted to involve centers for the first time. In addition, this was also a back up in case we finished early, or the kids needed something else to do….we never really needed them.
The lesson started with the learners on the carpet going over their shapes, when I was set up, we moved to our seats, after I introduced the girls as our special guests.
I had previously set up two ten frames on the floor with masking tape, this was a huge part of the lesson and meant to get the students thinking about their numbering. Playing the slides and having students come up to fill the living ten frames, asking questions and goofing around, this activity alone took almost 40 minutes. Students were so engaged with this, and laughing so much one young lady, literally, fell out of her chair on to the floor in a bout of laughter. It was magical.
When the videos played, the students had to yell out their responses, students were so invested they were literally standing up and yelling their numbers out.
When we got to the point where students were being asked to solve the OpenMiddle problem, the students used both the counters and two ten frames in front of them to build what the question was asking. With four facilitators asking questions and providing opportunities to wonder, I was very impressed at how quickly many learners were able to articulate either the largest or the smallest number. In quick succession, about half the class was able to get both, and explain, in quite vivid detail, why their numbers were the largest and the smallest….I was unduly surprised and excited.
We are 90 minutes into a very active class of learning, 5 year-olds are getting tired, one young lady even asked, if she could stop, stating her head was tired. When I asked is she would like to do something else, she flatly stated, “No.” I guess she wasn’t as tired as she thought she was.
As we came back together to finish the lesson, we were setting up the centers, when the time to begin cleaning up and getting ready for going out to the bus line started. We were just at the point of running the centers, so I will have to wait even longer to find out how these are supposed to go.
Needless to say, with a little energy, a little fun, and varying the types of involvement, even the youngest learners can be engaged in active mathematics for a lot longer than I would have guessed. For 2 hours we did mathematics, we laughed, we had fun, and everyone learned a lot.
“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn,” said Benjamin Franklin.
Learning is about involving both the teacher and the student in interactive ways, ways that provide a dance of questioning, activities, and doing. This amazing dance may occur at the seemingly most unprovoked moment, and leads to a bit of fun and a lot of learning. One such occasion occurred to me recently and it produced such an amazing bit of fun.
Setting the stage….
After a long day at work, I arrived home to the joyful glee of a precocious 7 year-old, bound with energy, and my wife making dinner. I was carrying a box of circuits from a fourth grade class, planning to return them the next day, but the physics nerd in me was tempted to play a little. When I began to play, the 7 year-old became curious, as I was thinking out loud, “What are these pieces for? How are they connected? I wonder if this will work?”
As she peered over the lip of the box, I asked her, “What do you notice?” With a tilted head she said, “I see blue color and a mess.” Side note, the box wasn’t a mess, but to a 7 year-old, with no words to describe what she was seeing, she went with what she knew.
We started pulling the materials out, when she saw that they were wires, the blue things we weren’t sure what they were for, and the light bulbs, she was both intrigued and confused. Again, I asked, “What do you notice?” She replied, “Light bulbs.” Then I asked, “What do you wonder?” She looked at me, thought a second, and said, “I think the same things you were saying earlier.” I know right?! So that happened, and we were off on our journey.
What we did….
Upon organizing the pieces, we started making connections (ha, cause it circuits...that’s funny) and we saw how the batteries connected, we placed the wires together on the board, screwed in the light bulbs, and observed what happened. Within a few minutes the light bulbs were glowing, and we were ecstatic. I didn’t expect anything to work, but it was brilliant.
So, I started asking questions and getting her to wonder about the connections, seeing if I could get her to make predictions, and then verify through the experiment. Now the nice thing about this experiment was she could immediately verify her predictions, and adjust accordingly.
She noticed that when the wire from the terminal of the battery touched certain wires one light, or both lights, would shut off. She noticed that only 1 or 2 configurations would allow for both light bulbs to be on simultaneously, and she noticed that based on how hard she pushed down on the wire, one of the bulbs was dimmer than the other at certain connectional values.
What was the outcome….
I prompted her thinking with guided questions, about why these observations are true. Her first responses hit on everything from the size, shape, direction, and straightness of the wires to the type of battery. Clearly this 7 year-old had no understanding of currents, Ohm’s and Kirchhoff's laws, and I was excitedly prompting for clarifications. Then an inspiration hit me….water.
So I painted a different picture, I said imagine if there was water flowing from this end of the battery, how might the water act as it flows around the circuit. Now, in case you’re wondering, this 7 year-old has limited exposure to electric circuits in a formal manner, but she has been to multiple rivers and we have had conversations on how silly water seems to act as it flows. So my inspiration was to try to tie this to things she has had a context from which to jump to this abstraction.
The next few moments were pure magic, she started experimenting with the which lights would turn off when she struck certain wires, and said that if the water flowed in a circle, then when the other light doesn’t come on, there’s a “rock” in the way. I knew she had the idea. So I asked, “So how might the correspond to when you touch this wire, and neither light turns on?”
She tilted her head, verified that when she touched the wire to that spot, both lights didn’t come on….”Oh I know!” she gasped. “It’s because there’s a rock stopping the water from reaching both lights.” Tracing out the circuit, she could see that the water wouldn’t reach the lights.
So, we traced out the circuit, played with a few more configurations, and then it was bedtime. May I tell you, we worked on the circuits for 2 hours, it felt like 15 minutes, and she was exhausted. My wife reported to me later, that she had complained her head was hurting, but she didn’t know why.
Two days later, the other 7 year-old exasperatedly proclaims, “I want to learn about the electricity thing.”
With some time to reflect on this experience I’m going to follow more of Benjamin Franklin’s advice: I am ready to provide a better stage, to involve them in their learning.