I decided to give up a little more control and see if I could get more authenticity.
We began to work through our financial literacy unit and I reserved enough iPads for pairs of students to use for research. As we discussed education after high school I focused more on helping the students research more about what they think that they would like to do. They were really focused and took ownership of the assignment which was based on their individual ‘why’. After researching through interest surveys, job outlook and personality traits of their initial career choices I had a third that decided to change career choices. The students started off asking a great deal of questions to me instead of learning the answer themselves. I circulated the room and instead of answering questions the information that they could find by googling we were having great conversation as they voiced their findings. We discussed whether they should rent an apartment, stay home with their parents or stay on campus if given the choice. Instead of having twenty-seven students asking me the cost of each living arrangement option for their selected college, junior college, trade school or university they discussed with their paired student after researching on the iPad. We then put the iPads away and discussed their discoveries. There were students that never turned in their math homework because they deemed math too hard calculating their cost of education and comparing it to their annual and lifetime salaries. The conversation continued for days after researching as they were authentically owning the assignment and the fact that they had a choice and a voice. I even received a few parents messages wondering why their child was so interested in learning about their finances (many parents told their kids that it was none of their business. 🙂 ) They are too young to learn about it or are they?
I have been able to create a low stakes island compared to my current school day environment. I am working in an after school enrichment/mentoring/tutorial program and many of these student are SpEd, ED, LD or at risk due to behavior issues at school.
I was given the opportunity to create my own course as long as I could show some alignment to the Texas testing standards. I chose to focus on Geometry and have a session called “Arts and Maths” (instead of arts and crafts 🙂 ) where we start with basic geometry skils such as identifying symetry and number of sides for 2-D figures then faces, edges and vertices for 3-d figures. I then allowed them to explored what they could do with the basic shapes (circle, square, triangle, rectangle) by chosing one to create a 2-d shape and discovering how to create a 3-d form of that very shape starting with the one that they chose. We have now transitioned to simply compounding shapes to create things (introducing them to architecture/engineering) but keeping allowing them to build whatever they liked initially from wooden blocks. The students are so used to being told exactly what to do as they prepare for STAAR testing that they wouldn’t start stacking a wooden block onto another until I told them what to build. They even asked for pictures or instructions. Their choice eventually came from me refusing to take it away. They experimented with things that didn’t look like what they thought that they should have built. I finally introduced different materials to use in addition to the wood blocks which included magna tiles, playstix, wedgits and a super architect builders set. They were allowed to choose which to material they wanted to build with and what to build. They finally begin to experiment on their own to create their own art (some practical use items and some not so much) each student was excited and proud about their individual accomplishment and even wanted to disassemble their masterpieces to create a new one.
After they took ownership of their projects I went to a student and gave her the book that came with the wedgits that had many ideas and she looked through it. I walked around and awarded true effort and spoke with the other individual students about their projects and every time I returned to her table she had a new creation. Each time I would ask her if it had come from the book since she had access to so many ideas now and she replied “I have my own ideas now so I don’t need that book anymore”. I was amazed at the change in ownership over the course of a twenty minute time period. I love COVA. 🙂 We have to actively practice and model the COVA method continuously as it works but takes time to break out of the regurgitation model which used to be the foundation of education. Wait time is invaluable if you can risk time being off the scoped calendar some then you will gain that timer back and some by the end of the year.
Over the years, it became very clear that this question was ineffective. Wait time is very important and many teachers provide just enough time to avoid many wrong answers. Instead of listening and guiding the students to the answer collaboratively the class must go on based on the curriculum timeline of mostly “one and done” lessons. Many students do not know what to ask or are usually terrified to appear “dumb” by asking “stupid” questions in front of their peers. When the issue is pushed and students are asked what they don’t understand the general response is “everything”. I learned after a few years that I needed to think of another way to get more feedback and spark a little conversation about the topic.
Many students come to me from teachers that simply asked for questions (or asked them questions then singled them out for not knowing) so I decided to try a thumb system. Students would give me a thumb up for their perception of full understanding, a side thumbs for a so-so perception of understanding and a thumb down for no perceived understanding (clarification was given as students that were not focused at all could not just give a thumb down). This system worked a great deal more than simply asking for any questions as I would at least get more students that were lot to give the side thumb and I would be able to better target my remediation process. I always explained that if all students just decided to give a thumbs up then clearly we are ready to assess and move on. I discussed the importance of the students giving honest responses and not having my students go into bobble head mode give lots of agreeing heads shakes with no meaning. (Per my personality, I insert humor and analogies with students daily) I have used this system successfully for about the last five years.
In the middle of this school year (and in the middle of a class) I saw and felt the death of the thumb strategy. It seemed to be losing its effectiveness for student feedback and discussion. So, in that moment I just thought about what the students could use to better voice their perception of the material but not feel singled out as it was relative to their population. Just like that I changed the system and the classroom response and effectiveness greatly improved again. Instead of thumbs we used the classic rock-paper-scissors challenge rules. I say “rock-paper-scissors” shoot! The students would play rock for perceived solid knowledge, paper for shaky perceived knowledge or scissors for perceived choppy knowledge. My 6th graders were excited to use the new system and I started to get valuable feedback so that I could hone in on my remediation even better. This quick relative thought on my toes saved my lesson that day and the students couldn’t wait to be asked for a response the days moving forward.
In every questioning system that I have used to spark discussion and thought, I model and remind the students that it is very unlikely to not understand anything that was discussed. For example, they know what numbers are and how to multiply, add, subtract and divide them but in an order of operations problem they could have simply missed one single step that led them to the incorrect answer. We spend time discussing the problem, their thought process and steps taken so they are able to pin point what happened that got them off track instead of immediately erasing the entire problem. Sometimes they need to start from scratch while other times they need to mend a small mistake or finish the process of the problem to reach the final answer.
Upon starting the Digital Leading and Learning graduate program at Lamar University I was ready to push myself to be the best student and succeed. I was fully under the impression that this program would be just like any other graduate program so I would need to read all of the books ahead of time and began to form my essays before the first assignments. I finished the entire book before I was fully registered and when the blackboard opened I began to draft each discussion assignment to have done ahead of time so that I could just hit submit. After the first class I realized that this class was going to be very different. Once I was not just told about but completely immersed in the COVA (Choice, Voice, Ownership and Authenticity) model I was terrified. I have never experienced education like this for myself even though I have seen the value and try to provide parts of it to my students year after year.
I was not terrified that I didn’t know how to use COVA I was terrified of not being told what to do and how to do it. I freaked out because I didn’t know my boundaries or what the structure was. I was allowed to have a different way to convey the same message as someone else. I love being unique so I was excited to try something new and learn out of the box methods or platforms to share with the class. On the other hand my anxiety was through the roof because I just knew that I couldn’t just turn in assignments that are “wrong”.
I truly belief that my constant work to stay in the growth mindset is what has made me able to fail forward. Mistakes are not the end of the world but are instead a chance to learn and improve which helps me to get closer to success. As I continue this program I know that it will take work to make sure that I am staying in the grow mindset but it will all be worth it in the end. I see that my “yet” may not be easy but I am ready and willing to trade it in for my “can’t”. Through this course I will not only be able to make changes within myself but within my classroom and on to my organization as a positive yet authentic leader.
I have always thought of professional learning groups outside of the math department at my school as something that would have to be purchased and paid for annually to utilize. I figured that I could just use google to get or make some of the same connections or obtain information. The professional learning groups are going to help me to collaborate more and create low stakes islands for myself to accomplish some of my goals that get pushed aside in the daily whirlwind of work tasks.
I previously researched the ISTE conference that is being held this summer (2017) in San Antonio but I had never thought about just joining the free professional learning groups that are mentioned on the site. I honestly didn’t look into it because I thought that one would have to pay for the conference before they could have access to any of the “goodies” from the website. I’m glad that this assignment made me take a second look at the website. I joined the learning groups. I was also able to download a free e-book about digital connections in the classroom and there is even a section that details the development of digital citizenship.
When I first started teaching I was a consumer but as I gained my own stride I began to contribute. Once I started to share my ideas with anyone that I could I noticed something very odd and upsetting. Rejection of ideas that were not originated by the recipient seem to be the culture of the department. Collaboration was really forced teacher meetings where everyone had to pretend to care about other ideas when the administrator was in the room. Upon leaving our collaboration meetings the “team” disseminated to plan what they were really going to use for their lessons. This made me feel as if my ideas were wrong and I would secretly try them in my room but smile and nod that I acclimated with the plan when good assessment results came back.
As I take baby steps to put myself out there again with data that backs up my methods I can’t wait to share everything that I have tried whether it has worked or not. I also hope to gain insight into things that I hope to try which might assist me with planning or warn me against the possible pitfalls within my vision. I know that there is another nerdy math teacher (or a few thousand) that think of math as a series of beautiful engaging blocks that anyone can learn to love and connect to.
Current Professional Learning Networks (I’m hooked…more to come 🙂 ):
I have also been professionally developing myself by talking to professional peers and watching some great TED talks. I am currently more a consumer in the online professional groups that I have joined as I receive the email updates and check the websites periodically. I am hoping to post more of my ideas as I maintain my ePortfolio and share it out to the communities that I have joined with the hopes of contributing to anyone that can use it to help lead positive change in the world of learning.