Who knew that thinking we were not good at Math ≠ the Truth?

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photo by Sam Howzit CC BY 2.0

Well in advance of my ever becoming an educator came an episode of BBC’s Dr. Who, where the TARDIS traveller shared,

“You know the very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common: They don’t alter their views to fit the facts; they alter the facts to fit their views, which can be uncomfortable if you happen to be one of the facts that needs altering.” from Dr Who Episode – The Face of Evil Part 4 January 22, 1977

It seems very clear now, that we are capable of convincing ourselves of anything regardless of sensibility, social standing, or support system. It’s happening everyday in classrooms because it has been allowed to happen over and over this way since forever. I’ll use the short story below to illustrate how it might be playing out in a typical Math classroom.

Some others

It’s a Tuesday, or is it Wednesday? No matter, because it’s Mathday. A teacher shares the concept(s). Some respond with nods, others avoid eye-contact, and silent supplications of “please don’t ask me to explain this”. Students try to understand what’s being taught. Some get it faster than others. Seconds pass, then minutes. Teacher grows impatient with awkward silences and then ploughs on. As if in unison, the others begin to doubt whether they’ll ever get it? Some wonder in disbelief how the others don’t get it and repeat. At some point most educators will have learners floating in various states between being some or the others.

Suddenly, but with far less warning, an assessment is given and the results serve to separate some from the others. Followed by a false, yet difficult to overcome, opinion that Math ‘can’t be got’, and therefore  must be hated, simply because of the inability of others to solve all or some of the concepts taught and problems given. This imbalanced view negatively warps some mindsets one way or an other;

  1. They tie Math and other academic success to self-worth
  2. Students begin to doubt their abilities based on single results rather than embracing an attitude of process and progress instead of performance.
  3. Problem solving skills are mitigated out of the day by educators who feel they have to cover what’s in the text books rather than what’s needed by their students. In other words they are being taught to the test rather than being allow to test what they’re taught.
  4. Resilience is skill that goes further underdeveloped in favour of focusing on report card marks. Instead of emphasising growth from concept attainment, iterative thinking, and real life application opportunities students are made to live, breathe, and be measured by a singular method and measure.

Simply put, we can’t allow alternative facts, false beliefs, or misinformation to infect the minds of our learners and colleagues. Yes, teachers believe that they can’t do Math too. We need to stand in the gap to prevent and dispel destructive mindsets. For some students and teachers this means time to unlearn, a safe place to make mistakes, relearn, and start again.

If we equip our learners with the ability to re-frame their focus with confidence and arm them with problem solving tools we can erase the discourse of doubt that plagues so many. This will run counter to the mass instruction of the past, but it will be better than perpetuating the destruction any longer. We need to understand that we are works in process and success will look different from lesson to lesson and learner to learner.

Perhaps then, the breezy breath of fresh air will be felt as a change for the better by everyone? In the meantime, I will be moving the air about my classroom like a human tornado helping students understand that thinking they are not good at Math is does not equal the truth.

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3 things

Warning: Do not read this post for more than 3 -4 minutes.

2016 is hurtling towards its calendar end and thoughts turn to a highlight reel retrospective heading for the history books. My mind is counting down around a repeating loop of ideas and reflections like a Space X reusable rocket. Well, maybe the baking soda and vinegar in a bottle type.

As the countdown approaches, I wanted to ask educators around the world to answer this question. If you’d like, think of it as a wishlist.

What would you change in education for 2017?

If you could change 3 things about education in 2017, knowing you wouldn’t fail, what would they be? I’m talking Astro Teller moon shot type changes here.

We use the word “moonshots” to remind us to keep our visions big — to keep dreaming. And we use the word “factory” to remind ourselves that we want to have concrete visions — concrete plans to make them real.  Astro Teller

Here are my 3 cannot-miss-the-spot-moonshot-thoughts.

  1. End the school to prison pipeline. My wish would be that schools could be funded with the same amount of money per student as the prisoners of our world. I believe that if we provided more funding for our schools, then our prisons would soon be very different and under-crowded spaces.I also believe that by stopping the flow of students from classrooms to courtrooms to cell blocks there would be a better standard of living for our entire society with opportunity for all. Imagine what could be done with all of the extra money if it was spent educating instead of incarcerating? Did you know that the students receive on average only 1/3 of the funding of prisoners?
  2. End standardized testing. What good is asking students to cram 10 months of learning into 9 months, only to stresst them out?  Why are millions of tax dollars being spent on tying up instructional time and resources in order to administer and assess students in grades 3, 6, 9, and 10. Is it worth quantifying education annually as a soapbox for politicians?Has anyone thought that the questions being asked are not considerate of skills and understandings required for the future? Cynical me asks, if there is a correlation to test results and real estate value? This appears to frequently be the case in my own province of Ontario, Canada. My own home price benefiting from strong results in neighbourhood schools.When I look at results by district in the U.S and compare facilities and funding I am left with many questions around equity and distribution of assets. In 2012, 1.7 billion dollars were spent on standardized testing in the U.S.A. If the financial cost doesn’t get your attention, how about the anxiety and mental health issues that result from many educators who feel they need to teach to the test instead of to the needs of their learners?
  3. End the global desk-wagging contest known as PISA and invest the money shelled out back into the students.Are you noticing a trend yet?To whose benefit do these tests and rankings really serve? How come the sample sizes are so small? Why are students and schools used as collateral/capital for international bragging rights? Did you know that schools can be recruited or selected to participate? How does this not scream of yielding a skewed sample? Why are so many countries not taking part in PISA? There are students learning on dirt floors or without access to any education at all. All the while a bunch of people in suits are deciding to see which privileged country’s students are number one.

It’s your turn to share 3 things. Shoot for the stars because you can. It will not be marked.
Countdown in 10, 9 … 3, 2, 1.

If you have made it this far, thank you for your interest in this topic. You are now past 3 minutes. Why not read on? Here is a very worthwhile reading list.

Pipeline to prison – https://briarpatchmagazine.com/articles/view/pipeline-to-prison

School-to-prison-pipeline – https://www.aclu.org/infographic/school-prison-pipeline-infographic?redirect=racial-justice/infographic-school-prison-pipeline

Project Liberty: School to prison pipeline –

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DXR51vZCfVY

How High-Stakes Testing Feeds the School-to-Prison Pipeline Infographic –  http://www.fairtest.org/pipeline-infographic

US should nix its federal department of education –  http://www.troymedia.com/2016/12/12/canada-proves-dont-need-federal-department-education/

School performance rankings from the Fraser Institute –  https://www.fraserinstitute.org/school-performance

How does a school district affect the value of your home (don’t miss comments) –

http://torontorealtyblog.com/archives/10020

The standardised test debate. Is EQAO good for education? (don’t miss comments) –

https://tapintoteenminds.com/the-standardized-test-debate-is-eqao-good-for-education/

School choice not the right choice for our kids –  http://www.freep.com/story/opinion/columnists/nancy-kaffer/2016/10/02/choice-schools-michigan/91240656/

Pisa and the creativity puzzle – http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/education/pisa-and-the-creativity-puzzle

The tower of PISA is badly leaning – https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2015/03/24/the-tower-of-pisa-is-badly-leaning-an-argument-for-why-it-should-be-saved/?utm_term=.c813afeddee2

My adventures with failure

When we consider our possessions and social status as the only measures of success in life then we have failed to see the big picture. In this post, my incredible niece, Hailey shares from the heart how she overcame a near death experience in her 20s to travel, experience, and photograph our world at a time in life where so many people are too busy chasing careers and things rather than discovering a world waiting for them to experi ence it.

Kean on Culture

I have put this blog off for more than a week. I have written and rewritten it 7 times. I have thought about it and gotten really confused and then emptied my brain and began to think about it again. How do you write about failure, about your own personal failure without embarrassing yourself or being a propagator of TMI? Bear with me. I’m going to write this the only way I can: honestly.

Now that I’m in my 30’s I feel this firm pressure to be at a certain point in my life socially and economically. This feeling becomes more prominent with every wedding invitation I collect, every baby that one of my friends’ pops out, every condo an ex buys and every job promotion one of my university classmates receives. I then realize that I don’t have any of these things and a shadow of failure starts to…

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Keep swinging for the fences — The Heart and Art of Teaching and Learning

photo by jcclark74 CC0 Spring is definitely here, perhaps this is not so evident in our temperamental weather, but by the fact that baseball season is back. In honour of that I wanted to share some connections to how being a student of the game is like learning in the classroom. I look at baseball as a sport for all ages…

via Keep swinging for the fences — The Heart and Art of Teaching and Learning

Perception

How we perceive ourselves is a matter of inner vision, trust, and wisdom. It must come from the belief we are all infinitely awesome at something. For me this came in realizing, albeit later in life, my true calling as an encourager, mentor, and educator.

So, at a time when mid-life sees many people my age taking stock of their relationships and buying little red sports cars, I sold my company and took a gigantic leap of faith with family intact.

Deciding to pursue a career in education came with an unimaginable amount of uncertainty. Terrible job prospects, rejection letters from all but one faculty of education (props Tyndale), and reduced revenue streams while I studied, practice taught, parented, and husbanded (a considerable challenge indeed).

Do you know the expression sometimes you have to learn the hard way before you can learn the right way? I’m sure I made some of that up, but I had basically flunked out of university in the 80s. I left with a chip in my shoulder and hurt that I did not succeed. What happened next was not a 25 year pity party over, but rather an education along the road of experience.

This journey has allowed me to arrive, alive, bruised, and better. What I learnt was that although what I did wasn’t always a success, it was the best I could do at the time. That my best was good enough so self-doubt, my ego, and abject personal disdain could go shove a rock. I realized I was a work in progress.

So…What makes you get out of bed before the alarm clock each morning?
Are you in the place that makes you the happiest and your light is undeniable?
How do you stay there? What sustains you when times get tough?

What keeps you hitting the snooze button until last minute late panic sets in or a terrible song drives you screaming towards the bathroom?
What would it take for you to change and get up before your alarm?

Where do you turn when you need help?
What would you change if you knew you would not fail?
Who could you talk to today?

Is it a matter of how you perceive yourself? Let’s Talk.

Coding is contagious

Caution. Coding can be contagious. Once caught it can lead to critical thinking, problem solving skills, and perseverance. Other side effects may include confidence and resilience, but may also be complicated by varying degrees of happiness ranging from enthusiastic to ecstatic.

That was the case this past month at Beckett Farm PS where nearly 600 students, from K to 8, took part in the Hour of Code.

Hour of Code is a global initiative to get students interested in computer science. Since its start in 2013, it has grown into an annual event involving over 100 million students from 180 countries. People like Bill Gates, Barack Obama, and Malala Yousafzai have been at the forefront of famous names to encourage students, of all ages and backgrounds, to take an hour and learn to code.

This year’s event at BFPS (our 2nd) was greatly anticipated as it included Star Wars, and Frozen among the programming choices. My grade 6 class stepped-up as amazing in-school ambassadors sharing coding with our Kindergarten and Primary students. What was awesome to witness was how naturally each of our students shared their enthusiasm for coding across age and gender lines.

In fact, this year’s Hour of Code Among saw the largest number of girls to ever try computer science in history. Hour of Code provides a great way to shrink the diversity gap in computer science by fostering interest and giving access to students at the earliest ages. By doing so, we can cultivate their confidence and skills to code and create into the future.

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6 words

It takes time to express yourself.
It takes effort to be precise.
Ideas are always possible when shared.

I am a huge fan of the 6 word memoir. I penned my first one in teacher’s college, and it has served me well for years. It goes:

I am a work in progress.

Take a look at the sign I’m holding in the picture above. You’ll notice I’ve reworded my original 6 word narrative, but did you see anything off about the picture? Hey! Other than the guy holding the sign?

The sign was rewritten to be inclusive of all learners. I am no longer a singular work in progress, but one of many works in progress. My calling as an educator has enabled me to see things differently now.

This year, one of my 6 word posts from Twitter was published in The Best Advice in Six Words, in November. Fortunately, my copy arrived in time to give to my dad as a Christmas present. The book has hundreds of pages of advice culled from a global cohort of advice givers, some of them famous, and others, like me, who are not so well known.

As dad gifts go, this one brings me full circle. It was my dad who distributed the wisdom growing up (he still does). Mom also played a huge role there too; she was the enforcer (she still is). Since starting my career in education it has been my goal to keep their work going.

While I was growing up, when my dad spoke I paid attention. It wasn’t out of fear, but in anticipation and respect. Although, he was always a man of few words what he shared resonated and stuck.

In September 1983 he told me, “It is a character building year.” (6 words) He wasn’t wrong. By the end of that school year in 1984, the joke became I had too much character. A bit of laughter reckoned the experience of completing grades 12 and 13 –  while holding down a part time job, competing in sports, and working as student council spirit rep.

He also shared, “There aren’t any leaders without followers.” (6 words) Ouch! That one took me down a peg as an impetuous young man who knew everything and had figured out the rest. Dad was right. What we sow in the service of others, whether it was with kindness or encouragement mattered. Time after time since hearing those words they have anchored my worldview as an entrepreneur and educator.

6 word stories are also a part of my Literacy instruction. My students are tasked with writing 6 word character studies, 6 word essays, and 6 word reflections about their learning. The exercise allows us to throw language conventions out the window and get to the heart of ideas and understandings. Students are challenged at first to communicate their most important thoughts, uncluttered from superfluous details.

Maybe it is the simplicity of having only 6 words to work with that make it so effective in the classroom? Perhaps, my dad was like a 6 word chef way ahead of his time cooking and serving thoughts in:

Edible, tasty, digestible and memorable mindfuls.

Cheers to great progress in 2016.