Amplifying Minds

Learning and Growing Together

Archive for the category “engagement”

Teaching Place Value and Kidwatching

Yetta Goodman, way back in 1978, coined the term, kidwatching.  Kidwatching is an observational assessment of children’s performance and responses to instruction throughout the school day. Anecdotal records or more structured teacher checklists often document kidwatching. It’s truly one of the most effective ways of learning about children and how they think…and today, in my 4th grade math class, I saw some really cool behaviors and learned some new things about many of my kids.

I began 2 weeks ago teaching a group of 4th graders (and one 3rd grader who joins that group) about binary numbers. One of our goals for teaching place value is to help kids understand that the PLACE of a digit tells the VALUE of that digit. Kids typically don’t get that, either verbally or intuitively–but they have memorized the decimal place value chart by 4th grade, so the strategy many kids use is to read the whole number, then look back at the question to find which digit they need to name, then try to remember what they said as they read the number, or make a place value chart so they can translate that one digit from what they they just said. Sound confusing?  It is–and there are many, many kids who make silly mistakes on tests, simply because they don’t understand the bold italicized sentence above. They think the digits cannot stand alone in that place, without the whole number.

So I decided to try to teach that sentence to understanding with these kids who come to me for extension in math two days a week.

Here’s what I did:

The first day, I began with a quick preassessment where I asked them to copy into their journal this sentence “There are 10 kinds of people in the world, those who understand binary numbers, and those who don’t.”

I asked them to write a brief comment on what they thought it might mean. Most just repeated or reworded the sentence a bit, not seeing anything wrong with saying ten when they saw the 1 and 0.

Then, we used a website, Math Is Fun,  and scrolled down on that page to the section labeled decimal vs. binary. Next, we discussed what place value meant, then we talked about the word part “bi” and thought of other words that have bi- in them and then I gave a quick intro to how binary numbers worked. I talked about computers, showed them the periods of the binary system and they immediately made connections between the sizes of their iPads and computers, and they brought up the game 2048, recognizing the binary numbers from playing that game in 3rd grade.

I deliberately used the terms decimal number system and binary number system instead of base 10 and base 2, because I wanted them to relate to the word system and look for the system of the numbers we were going to compare. That was the end of that day’s lesson.

For the next several days they first made the binary chart from 1-20, then worked on a couple of worksheets converting binary numbers to their decimal equivalents and decimal numbers to their binary equivalents. They also had some addition and subtraction problems regrouping binary numbers.

This week, in their homerooms, they began a multiplication unit. I had planned this week to have them work in other bases to make sure they understood how the number systems worked, so I decided to continue that. At the beginning of today’s class, one kid raised her hand and asked me what bases had to do with multiplication and why weren’t we working on multiplication. I responded that I had decided to go ahead and finish out the work on bases I had planned, knowing that after today’s work, she would understand.

Today’s work was varied, depending on the kid–some were simply working through all bases 3-9 to write the numbers 1-20. Others were counting in bases at a random decade (from 70-90 in base 8, for example.) Yet others were taking random numbers (49, 76, 114, 162, etc.) to convert them to several different bases. Most were making up their own challenges for themselves, sometimes depending on their interest, and sometimes depending on the partner they had chosen. They were all totally engaged, and working hard the whole hour they were in my room.

So, at the end of class, two boys came up to ask me to check their work on converting a number in the decimal system (that was in the thousands) to their base 4. They were absolutely correct, and I asked them how they had figured it out without a periods chart. They then turned the paper over and showed me their chart of 4 to the 5th power-1, 4, 16, 64, 256, 1024. The number they were trying to convert was 1,028. They said when they saw 256, they had doubled it, and when they saw 512, they remembered from 2048 (the game) that 512 doubled to 1024, so they knew the conversion then- 1 set of 1024, 0 sets of 256, 64, or 16 + 1 set of 4, and no sets of 1s or, in base 4, 100010.

I asked them if they had used multiplication and they said yes–so I then asked the class if they had used multiplication while working in different bases, and they resoundingly answered yes!  They also said they had had fun and they were looking forward to tomorrow’s class to keep going. The girl who had asked what bases had to do with multiplication at the beginning of the lesson asked me at the end if she could work on her charts during lunch–I asked her how much she had used multiplication in the last hour and she said “about a billion times.”

I was surprised by today’s class for several reasons…the ability they had, as a group, to manipulate numbers in their heads was so different from a 5th grade class I worked with another day, their remembering the numbers from the 2048 game and their use of them in the bases, a kid saying he needed to really understand bases so he could do better programming since he was going to be a computer programmer when he grows up, the engagement of all 17 kids, even a few who were new to the class today, and the total immersion in setting up challenges for themselves as they worked to understand the patterns and ways each base worked.

The fact that most of them were totally working independently, working with a partner, (so there were checks and balances) and having fun was great. But the conversations and explanations I heard clearly said they understand the systems better now that when we began last week. The fact they were looking for combinations of factors of a number showed their deep understanding of decomposing numbers. And, the way they were manipulating digits in various places to both show that factoring and the total number said they have grasped some major understandings of place value–my original goal. Today was a day for kidwatching. Now to help them verbalize those understandings and consciously recognize what they know and have learned…that’s tomorrow’s work.

Reimagining School: A Student’s Perspective

From Nicolas, a kid I taught in 5th grade, who is now in 9th.

http://nicolascres.wikispaces.com/Reimagining+School

Nic has some interesting perspectives, but the thing I have always appreciated about him is that he is thoughtful, caring, looking to make connections, a risk-taker and first and foremost, a person I am proud to know.

Just as my opinions are my own on this blog, his opinions are his own on his wiki and blog.

Making Readers

My Mother helped make me a reader.  I remember being read to before I was 7 years old.  (I lived in W. VA until then and I have memories of being read to in the W. VA house.) So I got that early exposure to reading, and I’m pretty sure I was reading before I went to school. Then, we moved, and in our new house, I remember my Mom and I going to the library to get books every week. I walked out each week carrying so many books I could barely hold them. I remember going home with every book in a picture books series–back then it was books like Flicka, Ricka and Dicka and Snip, Snap,and Snurr. (These have been reprinted in the mid-90’s.)

Image

50 years later, I could have told you (before I looked them up), that they were set in Sweden.  I knew they were books about triplets and that I loved poring over the illustrations.

I remember moving into chapter book series like Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys and then into Heinlein and Asimov (thanks to my brother, Rod.) All of this was done through the public library. (Thank you, Roanoke City for building a new one on the grounds of my Jr. High School!)

Then, I got more into science fiction and fantasy and in college and when I began to work, I began buying my own paperbacks–and so when I moved into my house, I had to have floor to ceiling bookshelves for those books I had been moving from place to place. I also have bookshelves all over my classroom and have spent way too much of my lifetime salary supporting my love of books.

I mostly spend on children’s books now–just to keep up with the upper elementary kids I teach. I introduced Out of My Mind and The One and Only Ivan and Hurt Go Happy to the kids in my school.  I read the Nerdy Book Club posts and often buy the books reviewed there. Just the other day I watched the Scholastic Spring Preview and immediately got some of those.

And I am still wondering why schools often don’t  make a lifetime reader.  I grew up on Lucy Calkins, Donald Graves, Regie Routman, Jane Hanson, and others of that era where we began talking about really teaching reading and writing like real readers and writers act. Yeah, I’ve read Donalyn Miller’s Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild. I have kids who are readers…and I have kids who can read, but choose not to.  I have kids who HATE, HATE, HATE anything that has to do with Daily 5 or a literacy menu, because they see that as making reading boring.  Kids don’t mind discussing books–but filling out packets of comprehension questions doesn’t cut it with them. And, I’m seeing more and more of that coming back into our classrooms.

So I struggle with preparing them for the state tests, which gives them a passage and asks them to answer questions like those typically found in packets. I sporadically give them worksheets on making inferences and reading for meaning, and interpreting various kinds of reading (poetry, narratives, non-fiction, etc.) but those don’t make them a reader.  They support them becoming a good test taker. And, as a teacher, I do see that as part of my job–because taking tests is part of schooling as we know it now.

I spend most of my time with students talking books, sharing books, enjoying stories together and supporting them loving to read, thinking deeply about connections and meanings and themes. But it’s the talking that matters to my kids.  They have a lot to say, and most of them are really thinking. They have questions, they wonder, they ponder why an author did this or that, they imagine being in the story, they engage with the characters, they connect around similar plots and characters, and they share recommendations for good reads.

I wish they could prepare a portfolio for the state assessment.  I wish theycould write a testimonial to the kind of reading they do.  I wish they could share their blog posts of reading recommendations.  There are a ton of things my kids–and all kids–could do to show they are successful readers beyond reading a passage and answering multiple choice questions about it. But while my state requires that test, I’ll continue to do test prep–enough for the kids to do well, but not so much they begin to see reading as a test to pass, or as answering questions, or as worksheets to do.

And, in the meantime, we’ll continue to share good books, read together, cry and laugh together over events in the stories we co-habitate in, and we’ll look to finding the next great book that flies around my classroom because we just can’t put it down. Because while I am expected to do test prep, I believe making readers is more important.

5th Graders Recommending Books

My 5th grade literacy group on Wednesday participated in a Today’s Meet and discussed books for well over 30 minutes.  I had asked them to share about the “Letter books” they read with a sub last week while I was away. (A “letter book” is where the story is told through letters or a letter (or more) serves as a major prop in the story.)

Here’s the transcript:

https://todaysmeet.com/readingletters/transcript

Enjoy!

I Write To Make Meaning

A while back, I wrote a post called “I Write For Myself.” I’ve been thinking about whether that was completely true or not, and I’ve come to realize that writing is incredibly important to me.  I started a blog years ago because I was beginning to connect online and it seemed like the thing to do.  As people read and responded to me, though, I realized the connections were important , but my figuring out what I had to say was even more so. I do write for myself, and I write to make meaning. But without an audience, an authentic audience of people who choose to read my writing, I wouldn’t grow nearly as much as I have since I began that blog.

Ruth Ayres, in Celebrating Writers, said, “We write to communicate clearly, to come to new understandings and to connect to others.” I think that pretty much sums it up for me as well. Writers–real writers who understand the craft of writing–know that it is, as Ms. Ayres also says, not about writing for publication but writing for meaning. I write to understand my own thoughts, and when others respond to them, it helps me learn, ponder, think and grow.

Tomorrow I begin a six week writing club after school. I’ll have 6 hours to support these kids who chose to spend some time after school writing. I’ll have 6 hours to (potentially have to) undo the idea of what writing is that they have learned in school.  For many kids, there is school writing–the 5 paragraph essay, the writing on command, the writing for the teacher, the writing just to be writing– and then there is

w*r*i*t*i*n*g*

W*r*i*t*i*n*g* tugs at our hearts, it is hard work, it connects us to other people. 

W*r*i*t*i*n*g* exhilarates us, it makes us cry, it makes us laugh, it makes us feel human–big and powerful. It also makes us feel small and alone.

W*r*i*t*i*n*g* touches us in ways other things can’t–but only if it is good…and we have to help kids find that thread within themselves that allows them to share those thoughts and feelings–through words– with the world.

We can’t set kids up to think writing happens for the teacher–or for the grade.  or worse yet, for the test. Writing comes from within, from a need to get it out–and yes, from a need to be heard. 

Tomorrow I begin a six week writing club after school. I’ll have 6 hours to support these kids who chose to spend some time after school writing.

I won’t be using a red pen–we’ll confer to talk about how to change their writing.

I won’t be having them write for me–they’ll have a real audience, and I hope you might be part of it.

I won’t be asking them to write to prompts of my choosing, but I will help them find ideas– theirs, not mine.

I won’t even mention the 5 paragraph essay (except to maybe say ignore that structure as they write), but we will be talking about beginnings and middle and endings.

I will be working to touch their hearts and tug at their empathy strings and  help them feel their emotions and learn their thoughts through what they write.

I will be asking them to get to know themselves better and make meaning of themselves and their world.

I will be asking them to respond to each other, to reflect on what they are doing, and to rejoice in what they are learning.

I wil be asking them to write for meaning.

Priorities–we all have to make them.

So, in late August, I committed to some folks over Twitter (through Shawn White,  @swpax) to writing a blog post every day–or trying to–for the month of September. I had ups and downs, but I did it, and a few days I even wrote two posts.

BUT, it wasn’t the most fun I ever had writing.  I thought about what was I going to write about when I wasn’t ready to write.  I worried about it, even.

When I knew I had a post due and I had no inspiration, I found myself thinking, “What can I do to get’r done?”

I hated those days.

BUT I found out some things, both about blogging and myself:

  1. I can do it–write a blog post every day. The question is, do I want to?
  2. Some days are more inspirational than others.
  3. I have had some incredible administrators in my tenure as a teacher in my county. They rock in so many ways and often gave me encouragement in September. (My former principal is an amazing friend.  She needs to tell her stories!)
  4. My colleagues in Albemarle County Public Schools are incredibly supportive and kind. (I knew that already, but I was reinforced in that belief this past month.)
  5. Many of  the people on my staff were reading my blog!  One even commented here, many over email or to my face. Thanks to all of you–your encouragement means a lot.
  6. I found myself looking at the stats and the retweets, and I found myself looking for patterns in the posts I wrote.
  7. While I started this blog to share what I was doing in my classroom and describe that (how I was working to amplify my students’ minds), those seemed to be the least read posts, looking at the stats.  They were definitely the least retweeted and commented on.
  8. While people didn’t often comment on here, the things I was saying were starting conversations face to face and other places.
  9. I received several DMs, or had conversations that people felt uncomfortable posting to the web. While I wanted conversation, I understand sometimes a reaction just isn’t appropriate to post online.
  10. I hate feeling forced to write on someone else’s schedule.  And, while I KNOW I was the one who decided to do this, there were times I wanted to blame someone else for feeling irritated I had a blog “due”–even if it was just due to myself.
  11. The days I felt like “Get ‘r done.” weren’t worth it to me. I love writing and want to continue to love writing.  I don’t want to feel like writing is a chore.
  12. The commitment kept me going and writing, even when it was hard… and that’s got me thinking about making a commitment-any commitment.

So, as I think about doing this every day of the year, for 365 days, I’m just not sure  I want to do that. I tried the photo 365 one year, where you take a picture every day for one year.  I lasted until April or May before I quit, I think… and while the project was amazing for getting me to look at the world around me differently, I began to see it as a chore. Writing a blog post a day for one month seemed really doable to me back in August.  Looking at 365 days seemed unsurmountable. I’m now pondering long term and short term goals (365 days versus 30 days, in my case.).

I guess I really want to think about what we do to kids when we set their goals for them.  That’s what the state standards do, don’t they?  The standards define their minimum learning for the entire year…and we all know kids who could–and should–go WAY beyond those bare minimum requirements. So when we begin a unit in Social studies, or science, or even math or literacy, do we tell the kids from the get-go all we’re planning to teach them?  Do we ask them what they want to learn? Do we gather their thoughts and consider them in our planning?

Part of why I’m asking these kinds of questions is because Stenhouse just publicized a book called, “Celebrating Writers” which has a preview of the entire book you can read online.  I began it last night, and read through part of the first chapter–a story about a kid named Mason. You see, Mason looked like he was doing nothing during writing workshop–but the teacher gave him space, and was able to then use his behaviors to motivate others and help them learn…

The whole book seems really worth reading, says she who has begun the first chapter.  Go check it out.

Well, I took some space this past week, after September 30,  because I was out of town, at two different summits and incredibly busy.  I had no time to write, I had no inclination to write, and I had no brainpower to write after having been in some pretty heavy conversations each day, all day.

Having taken that space, and doing the reflecting I’m doing today, I’m not even going to think about doing 365 posts. I like writing and don’t want to look at it as a chore.  I want to model good habits of writers for my students and I don’t think this is one. Writing on a regular basis, yes. Writing even daily, probably.  But writing just to post a post each day?  No.

And, here’s a funny–I was going to point you readers to the list of people who had joined the 365 blog-a-day group.  I knew Shawn had created a Twitter list, so I went to his twitter feed to find it, I went to his blog  to find it, and I found this instead.
Priorities–we all have to make them.

Minecraft? or Crafting Minds?

Several days ago, I found this (what I’d consider to be fairly old now)  YouTube video called “What Does It Mean To Teach In The 21st Century?”  While I plan to critique part of it in this blog, I like some parts of it and plan to use it with our teachers on Monday’s workday to spark conversation. Take 9 minutes to watch it, or this blog post won’t make as much sense as I intend, I don’t think.

First, let me say that my definition of engagement is based on Phil Schlechty’s work and that of our adaptations through our learning walks.  Our administrators, as they do learning walks in our classrooms, look for what we’ve defined (with John Antonetti) as the 8 engaging qualities.  These include:

personal response

clear and modeled expectations

emotional/intellectual safety

learning with others

sense of audience

choice

novelty and variety

authenticity

These are derived from Schlechty’s work by John Antonetti, who has worked extensively with our district in the past. So, as we design classroom work, or look at what we’re doing, we look for those qualities.

And, as a mathematical thinker, as a logical person, as someone who appreciates comparing and contrasting, I generally like dichotomies–but pairing entertainment and engagement doesn’t work in this video.

I don’t know about you, but the work I do–as an adult–is pretty enjoyable to me if it encompasses those traits. And, so I have to disagree with some of the dichotomies set up in that video.

First, entertainment is passive and engagement is active. What?  Some of the things I do for entertainment include reading, solving a puzzle, playing a game, playing jeopardy, hanging out with my grandkids (and that is NOT passive, believe me!), camping, storytelling and I’ve spent years waterskiing! I don’t think it’s an either/or situation.

Secondly, entertainment is enjoyment and engagement is learning???? When I’m learning I’m not entertained, and I can’t enjoy learning?  That’s simply crazy!

And look at the other dichotomies set up–

entertainment=short lived, engagement =long term

entertainment=not relevant, engagement =meaningful, applicable

entertainment=allowing escape from reality, engagement =solving problems

entertainment=using creativity of others, engagement =using your own creativity, fun, exciting

Again, it’s not an either/or situation in any of those cases in my mind…

But let’s look at some of the movements abroad in schools today…Minecraft for education, the maker movement, coding of all kinds, problem/project/passion-based learning, connected educators and kids, flipped classrooms, etc., etc., etc. Are those things either entertainment or engagement?  Doesn’t engagement entertain us? And doesn’t entertainment engage us?

And what does that have to do with Minecraft? Is school all about entertainment and engagement?  Do our kids have to be entertained to be engaged?  Do they have to always be engaged? And why am I concerned so much with these two words?

Well, my room is where kids come to play Minecraft. My room is where they explain it to one another , set up mods, visit each others’ worlds, and can chase and kill zombies (or be killed by them.)  They tell me they’re building and making, and honestly, I don’t know if they’re just feeding me a line of bull. So I wonder about their engagement. I wonder about their learning, and I wonder about their time.  I wonder about their interactions with others (both online and off) and I wonder about wasted opportunities to do other stuff.

So I think about engagement and entertainment and wonder if Minecraft is really worth my kids’ time. They used to interact with one another face to face, playing strategy games. They used to cooperatively build structures and towns and communities with our digital fabrication tools.  They used to be into exploring our 3-D printer. And, I know they’re doing all of those skills (sort of) when they get into Minecraft.  But is it what they should be spending their time doing in school while they are face to face?

It’s an “and,” not an “or”–but kids have to find the balance for themselves. The “and” begs for balance–I play a handheld Othello game each morning…and play Qwirkle with my friends in the evening.  Those entertain me–as does the soap opera I have watched since I was in middle school.  But those things are important to my refreshing who I am–they engage me, in various ways, but they also invigorate me, as they allow me to reflect, rejuvenate myself and energize myself through down time. Finding the balance for myself between the down time I need and the time I use for growing and learning is MY choice–it’s MY decision to spend time online interacting with new acquaintances and friends (some of whom have become real f2f friends) or with my nearby friends that I live around every day.

So how do we, as teachers, help our students find their personal balance?  How do we encourage them to explore online avenues of growth, but also realize the importance of face to face interactions?  How do we allow them to make their own choices, and not judge them as they make different choices from what we might make?  This is their youth–and while it is different from ours, the values I value are still the values I can teach–and I believe, values that matter.  While technology enhances and enables our students of today to learn in ways I never imagined as a youth, the choices I make as a teacher need to enhance and enable them to make good decisions as they become adults–because they are MY future as well.  We need to help students, as always, learn balance between being responsible and having fun; we need to help them learn from life experiences while demonstrating good sense; and we, as teachers need to help themselves craft their minds.  We need to make sure, as they use the technologies available to them, that they are not simply using games like Minecraft and other online diversions to avoid growing and learning, but instead learning through them and with them and finding the balance they need to become the best they can be.

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