Amplifying Minds

Learning and Growing Together

Archive for the category “Thinking”

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.


What Am I Thinking?

I am such an Introvert–yes, with a capital I. I truly renew my energy when I am alone or with a small group. It takes a lot for me to enter a convivial group, but I do it because I know it stretches me and helps me learn–and I love the friends I have made on the Internet and at conferences and in so many learning places–and I want to see and connect with them all.  So I am here at ISTE15, but I am in my room, skipping #HackEd, because I have to sort out some thoughts about the momentous Supreme Court decision made yesterday–to allow marriage between any two consenting adults.

“The decision is a reminder that “change is possible, shifts in hearts and minds [are] possible,” he [President Obama] said.

“This nation was founded on the principle that all people are created equal,” he said. “People should be treated equally no matter who they are or who they love.”

I am an Introvert, yes, and I am also gay. Early in my career, I almost lost my job over being accused of it. I had to deny who I was, and I had to deny who I loved to keep my job. So I’ve been there–in a spot of being discriminated against because of who I am. I’ve been there–surrounded by judgmental people who wanted to do something mean to me just because of who I am. And, I’ve been there–thinking there was something wrong with me because of who I am.

I sit here and write on WordPress, and look at the rainbow header–their doing, not mine. I think of the picture of the White House–the White House, for goodness sake, bathed in rainbow colors!


I think of all of the amazing responses we have gotten from folks when my partner of 22 years and I announced we had decided to get married this summer. I think of a post I saw on FB by my partner, Becky, about all of the bible thumping folks and hope it is read…This is an interesting read for folks who are thumping the Bible over today’s SCOTUS ruling –  I think of all of the rainbows I have seen all over Facebook in the last 24 hours, and I think of the kids I teach.

Because despite all of my past fear, hurt and anger, (at times), over the discrimination I have been shown, what I mostly think about today is the children. They will grow up in a different world than I did. They will hopefully not be threatened with losing their job over who they are. And they will hopefully be in a school system that will support them and encourage them to be who they are, as they figure that out. Not all of us know right away who we are, and even more importantly who we want to become and what we can do to get  there.

I watched a boy in one of my schools, who at 7 years old in 2nd grade, wanted to be a girl, and was pretty vocal about it. He wanted to play with dolls, to play with the girls at recess, and to wear girl clothes. The school’s reaction, when the parents asked for advice, was to counsel them to get him psychological help. The school counselor put him in a social skills group with other boys to help him develop friendships. He was seated at a table of boys to help him have role models. He was encouraged to play in the “boy games” at recess. No one dealt with his very real feelings that he was different. No one talked with the other kids about what he verbalized to them. The very caring classroom teacher sought advice from other teachers, but she, too, didn’t know what to say or do. I didn’t speak up at the time, because I was still afraid I would be branded and ousted as the gay teacher if I spoke up. I hate that I let my own fear keep me from offering support and help to those parents, and that child. He moved at the end of that year, so I don’t know what happened, but I often think of him (or maybe her, now.)

I think of all of the people who, for one reason or another, judge others and treat them differently because of that. I think of the bible teachings I learned as a youngster–“Judge not, lest ye be judged” and think of all of the hypocrites I have known–that claim to be Christian, but judge anyway–and treat others according to that judgment. And I think of how that treatment changes folks–kids or adults–in how they think about themselves, how they perceive their interactions with others, and how that affects who they are and who they become.

And I want teachers, everywhere to realize there is a LOT of literature out there right now with gay characters, with transgender characters, with characters who are struggling with eating disorders, or mental or physical disabilities–and with many, many other issues kids deal with, often without help. Developing empathy in kids supports kids who need it getting help. Reading and talking about books like this change kids.

When we read Out Of My Mind

Screen Shot 2015-06-27 at 3.15.10 PM

as a group of third graders, I had a kid say she didn’t want a child like Melody in her room because it would take too much of the teacher’s time and she wouldn’t learn as much. I kept pushing books on her that dealt with kids with issues and two years later, in fifth grade, she said it was one of her favorite books of all times.

We can make a difference…

…with all kids–whether they be introverts, extroverts, gay, transgender, biracial, questioning, incredibly smart, incredibly needy (for whatever reason), disabled (however that may be), “normal” (whatever that means) and/or any other way kids are. We can make a difference no matter who or how they are.

So as we sit in our sessions at ISTE15, (or any conference, or any professional development, or any meeting, or any classroom, for that matter)  and talk with the folks we see rarely, at conferences, I am thinking we need to always think about what we are helping the children learn–what are we inadvertently teaching them by NOT talking about issues important to them?

What are we saying when we have no books about gay kids or parents, when we don’t talk about the social issues they are engaged in, when we ignore the pain we see in their eyes or faces as they walk in our rooms? We, as educators, need to be open to all sorts of learners, to all sorts of people, and, more importantly, we need to help them empathize, to care, and think deeply about who and what they are and want to become.

We need to help everyone in our lives understand we are all people–mostly with the same insides, and mostly with the same goals in life–to survive (and thrive), to be happy (have fun), to be loved, to be safe, to belong, to have control over our lives, and be free to be ourselves.

I’m thinking we need to be familiar with lists of books that help kids understand other kids.

Here are some to get you started:

Top 13 YA Books for Talking to Teens about Tough Stuff

Popular Teen Issues Books

Best Teen Books About Real Problems

And I’m also thinking we need to get some serious conversations going among educators about how to shift hearts and minds, as President Obama said.

What are you thinking?

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.)


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.

Why I Don’t Give Grades

My 4th grade math group is a bunch of geeky math kids.  They love puzzles, trying to figure out problems by themselves, and they do math just for the fun of it.  It’s really an amazing hour three times a week.

Our fourth grade is where kids in our county encounter report card grades for the first time.  Up to this point, they’ve gotten behavioral and work habit scoring and a satisfactory (or not) ranking on subject areas–but no A, B, C, D, F to this point.  Here, though, they begin to encounter that grading system we all know and love.

I have nothing to do with their grade–the classroom teachers do that. I also don’t have the same kids all the time.  Our 4th grade teachers pre-assess at the beginning of a unit and I work with the kids who need extension.  Kids stay in their math class Monday and Fridays so the teachers can make sure they get exposed to and work on all pieces of the curriculum. I work with them the other three days of the week.

My current 4th grade math group is working on analogies and patterns in math right now as an extension to their place value work. For the past week, they’ve been working independently on a series of worksheets and problems that stretch them in all kinds of ways, and they’ve been loving it.

They love feedback, so when they finish a page, they find a buddy who has finished the same page and compare answers–when answers are different, they work the problem together to find the correct one. As they discuss and solve problems and question each other, I glance over their work, but I don’t ever sit down and go through their papers problem by problem, to score it in any way.  Our work is collaborative enough and we talk enough about  the work that I know who’s still a little iffy on certain things, who has it solid and who needs lots of support. We end class lots of times by going over the problems someone found hard that day.

Today was hilarious–I was teasing some kid–I honestly don’t even remember about what, but I said something stupid like “if you do so and so, it’ll be an “F”.”  The kid I was talking to looked at me and her eyes starting widening, getting round as saucers.  I looked at her and was thinking–but not saying– “Really?  You really think I’ll give you an F?” She hesitated, and then she said,

“Do you actually  grade our papers?”

I laughed.

It was such a foreign notion to her–she had no clue what that might look like.  Me judging her? Me putting red marks on her paper?  Me crossing out ones she missed and counting them up? (This is the same kid who earlier today had looked at me and said, “I don’t see how you do it–so many kids are asking for help and you help all of us.  Any other teacher would be yelling at us, telling us not to call her name anymore!” )

(I have to say I don’t think that’s really true in my school, but I know we’ve probably all had days we wished we could change our names–even if just for a little while!)

So, why don’t I grade their papers?

Because I think kids learn more from reflective feedback and deep questions and studying and finding and talking through their own mistakes.

Because what we learn from grades is to compare ourselves to others around us–and I’d rather set them up to look for their own growth in relation to themselves, instead of their performance in relation to someone else.

Because I know them–from our class discussions and our quiet one-on-one talks and the questions they ask, and the comments they make and the strategies they share– I feel no need to give them a letter grade to tell them what I think.

Because I get to know their thinking every day as I challenge their sharing, ask them hard questions and honor their responses as a learner–right or wrong.

Because we share strategies and thoughts every day–and they trust themselves to ask questions about stuff they don’t understand–and their questions help me know what to teach and help them learn.

Because I expect them to be learners–and people who care about their own learning don’t much care about outside evaluations of their learning–they know when they know it and when they don’t. They don’t need a grade to tell them that.

So, yeah, when I was asked if I actually grade papers, I laughed…and we do that a lot in my class.

So, Reagan, this blog’s for you–keep asking those hard questions, thinking, looking to make meaning and sense of your world  and most of all, keep laughing with those sparkly blue eyes!

On Pundits, Professors and Philosophers

“Pundits fret… once again about how kids today can’t write—and technology is to blame. 

Clive Thompson in Wired magazine, “Clive Thompson on the New Literacy.”  August, 2009

This article tells the story of a Stanford University professor, Andrea Lunsford, who did a study of writing in Stanford students.  While she found that students today are doing MORE writing than they used to, much of it (38%) is what she calls “life writing,” the writing that takes place out of the classroom.

Here’s part of the article:

The fact that students today almost always write for an audience (something virtually no one in my generation did) gives them a different sense of what constitutes good writing. In interviews, they defined good prose as something that had an effect on the world. For them, writing is about persuading and organizing and debating, even if it’s over something as quotidian as what movie to go see. The Stanford students were almost always less enthusiastic about their in-class writing because it had no audience but the professor: It didn’t serve any purpose other than to get them a grade. As for those texting short-forms and smileys defiling serious academic writing? Another myth. When Lunsford examined the work of first-year students, she didn’t find a single example of texting speak in an academic paper.

In the past 6 years I have been using wikis and blogs, I’ve known my students were doing some quite thoughtful–and thought-provoking–writing. I’ve often been impressed with their idealism, their insight and their willingness to ask questions and challenge the status quo. I’ve tried hard to give them leeway to stretch themselves and their thinking while also not going past boundaries that would get either of us (them or me) in trouble with our community (parents, teachers, admins) in any way. We’ve walked a line between oral conversations and me asking them to write online–both to each other, and to others whom I convinced to interact with them on wikis and blogs. Some of my student writers have been amazing storytellers, most of them have waxed philosophical at some point or another, and I have enjoyed reading and responding to their thinking as we learn together in our conversations, both written and verbal.

Now, there aren’t many people I don’t think, that would say Aristotle or Socrates or Plato weren’t smart  or didn’t have intelligent discourse with their students and people of their time. In their day, conversations were oral.  The time to think, reflect, ask questions, and participate in deep discourse was crucial to becoming an informed and intelligent person.

Thomas Jefferson, in designing his “academical village” at the University of Virginia, designed gardens outside of the professors’ on-grounds homes where the professor and students could meet after class to continue the discussions begun in class, or probe the thoughts shared that day. The Pavillions were created to increase the opportunities to talk…much as our online opportunities to engage each other allow us to do today–only TJ’s professors met their students face to face in the gardens behind each pavilion and our connecting with others to learn and grow, especially in recent years, has been done through various forms of writing (Twitter, chatting, Google+, and on and on).

However, when pundits (to use the authors’ word) say the writing that students are doing online isn’t helpful to them or their future, here’s another statement in the article I thought was important.

The modern world of online writing, particularly in chat and on discussion threads, is conversational and public, which makes it closer to the Greek tradition of argument than the asynchronous letter and essay writing of 50 years ago.

So our students are learning as the “masters” taught years ago–perhaps without the questions and probing form minds like Aristotle or Socrates, but in that manner.

Kids are learning how to talk to one another, hold intellectual discussions and arguments, ask questions, research, be concise (with 140 characters , one MUST be concise), be descriptive, and most of all, assess the audience and write to persuade, engage and debate.

And the conclusion? What are students learning in all of this online writing?

 What today’s young people know is that knowing who you’re writing for and why you’re writing might be the most crucial factor of all.

That’s what I want to help my elementary kids “get”–that if you want people to listen and hear what you have to say, the message needs to be written (or spoken) in a way so as to attract and engage the audience in thoughtful reflection and/or action.  I want my kids to go back to those thinking, curious days of being 4 and 5, where every other word was “Why?” or “How does..?” or “I wonder…”

After all, if I had to listen to or read a pundit, which is defined by wikipedia as someone who “offers to mass media his or her opinion or commentary on a particular subject area … on which they are knowledgeable (or can at least appear to be knowledgeable), or a professor or a philosopher, the pundit wouldn’t be my first choice.  And, furthermore, if children had to listen to, or try to be a pundit, professor or philosopher,   I’d definitely prefer the latter, wouldn’t you?

When and Where?

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?” In it, the authors listed the following skills and asked, “Where do we expect them to learn the skills they need to be successful on the Internet?”

The skills were: paraphrasing, attributing, subscribing, editing, tagging, tweeting, linking, experimenting, reflecting, commenting, searching, posting, locating, linking, integrating, networking, bookmarking, mashing, uploading

The list made sense to me.

They further added these as work kids need to be engaged in as part of their learning:

gather and use data, talk about reliable sources, publish and evaluate work, collaborate, store work and reflect on their progress

Yep, again, made sense to me–although I could add a few.

This morning on Twitter while participating in a tweetchat, #rechat, @ehvickery, as a connected teacher getting her kids to be connected learners, listed these as some of her expectations for learners: Curation – Verify/Trust Info – Various Perspectives – Determine Value to Meet Need – Share & Filter

And my first thought, looking at these lists, was the question from that video…where do we expect students to learn these skills?

Emily’s list was very similar to the ones on the video, and ones I value. But I don’t see kids in my school using these skills much in contexts that matter to them…and I think all schools, including mine, should have conversations around where and when these skills should be taught and learned–by both adults and students.

As I look at those lists, I can’t imagine how some teachers can teach those things to kids–they don’t do them themselves online, so how can they teach them? Heck, I’m not even comfortable teaching all of them and I am considered to be a pretty connected educator, tech-savvy and experienced online.

Too often we rely on others to teach these skills–the library teacher, a computer teacher, a technology integrator–and we assume the kids have them.

But, let’s look at them in the context of our educational past, and think about going to workshops I’m sure many of us have attended–‘Writing Across The Curriculum,’ ‘Integrated Units,’ ‘Reading to Learn in Science‘ (or SS), ‘Writing in Math Class,’ etc. We haven’t done a good job of integrating those topics–Math teachers still teach math. English teachers still teach reading and writing.  Our 3 R’s are still, in most places, isolated skills, taught as distinctly separate subjects, despite the habits of mind that go across the disciplines.

And so, how can we expect these skills–“the ones kids will need to be successful on the Internet”–to be integrated into various lessons?  Don’t we need a separate place and time for them to be taught (by a separate person trained to teach all of them), so we can hold kids accountable for using them?

Well, I don’t think so.  Thursday in our 5th grade math class, Betsy (@bagee1) and I had kids share their various ways of solving an elapsed time problem and then we held a discussion about which ones worked, which were efficient, which took more time, which were clearer to understand, etc.

In doing so, weren’t we “determining value to meet needs” and looking at “various perspectives,” as Emily was quoted above? And, weren’t we, when we finished and asked kids to decide which was best for them, asking them to “filter” out the less effective ways?

The point here, is that these skills aren’t necessarily limited to technology or the Internet. They go across disciplines in many ways and are  ones we need in math, or writing, or reading, or science, or….the list could go on and on. But do we? Do we teach them in ways that allow kids to see them across disciplines–or think about and use them in context of the Internet and what they do there?

Do we teach in ways that allow kids to learn about themselves as learners and become better at learning?  Have we become so attuned to teaching our subjects for the test score that we don’t teach learning any more? Isn’t school where kids come to learn?

So should our conversations as teachers, our faculty discussions, be about these trans-discipline skills? Shouldn’t we talk about how we can teach paraphrasing, attributing, subscribing, editing, tagging, tweeting, linking, experimenting, reflecting, commenting, searching, posting, locating, linking, integrating, networking, bookmarking, mashing, uploading not just in the subject they fit most logically and traditionally, or only in the context of the Internet, but across disciplines?  And shouldn’t we be explicit in naming them when we use them in various subjects, especially if our subjects remain silos?

Aren’t those the conversations we should be having as we think about when and where these “skills we need to be successful on the Internet” should be taught? Shouldn’t we be talking about how to get out of our silo-ed classrooms, and how to use and recognize and talk about skills and habits of mind across disciplines? Shouldn’t we be teaching compliance less and thinking more? Shouldn’t we do less teaching kids how to play school and please the teacher and give them more opportunities to learn like real learners learn?

After all, we can’t teach what we don’t think about and we can’t collaboratively think about what we don’t talk about. So when and where do those conversations occur?

I’m an Idea Person–You’re the Writer

Some of us are better at some things than others…and if we’re lucky, we know it.  I’ve had teacher friends over the years that I would go to with specific questions, and I’ve had others who come to me for help in certain areas. What’s wonderful is when we both know those strengths and share openly, honestly and in ways that help the other person grow. You see, I believe we should help each other just as much as we try to help our students. The people we work with are there to do the same thing we are–so when we work together towards common goals, the whole community benefits.

I’ve worked with folks before who act like a crab from the crab pot theory. (I think that came from Larry Lezotte.)  But when I get stuck in that position, I work to get out of it as soon as I can.  Life is simply too short to spend time with people who only think of bringing others down.

So, I enjoy finding folks who have strengths I don’t, so I can learn from and grow with them. That’s an awesome reason to join the Twitterverse, and to be online in a variety of venues. It was through Twitter I first really felt the isolation of the classroom diminish…It was from Twitter that I met so many new friends way back in 2009 at ISTE, (which was then NECC).

But at some point, I distanced myself a bit from Twitter to go into my school system to bring others online. I know there are people on Twitter because of me. There are people now working in our county that wouldn’t be working here if not for me. But that’s not what’s important to me.

I have watched a ton of folks, both within and outside of my county learn to use social media of all kinds to grow and learn–some much better than I have. But, I continue to learn, grow, try new things and interact with others to get better for my kids. That’s what’s important.

I often run blog posts by others for an opinion.  I’m blessed in that I have a bunch of critical friends I can call upon to do that for me. Recently, as I was listening to feedback from a specific friend, she was waxing eloquent about the topic.  I told her she needed to write about the topic, not me, and her response was, “I’m the idea person, you’re the writer.”

What?  Why would anyone say something like that?

But as I thought about what she had said,  I realized it’s partially true….she provokes me to think and reflect and put things together in unique ways. She builds up my knowledge base and challenges me to think differently. She IS an idea person–but she is also a writer, a thinker, a scaffold and a support beam for many people.  She’s humble, asks amazing questions and has integrity…a true educator.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could surround ourselves with people who are such catalysts?

Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could all be that kind of an educator?

So now my question is, how do we build confidence in our children (or our friends) when they classify themselves as only a writer, or a mathematician, or a reader, or worse yet, NOT a writer, or NOT a “math person”, or NOT a reader? How do we structure our classes, and more importantly, our learning experiences, to be inclusive and allow everyone to stretch themselves, wherever they are?

I’m wondering how to help make learning accessible in all classrooms and why it’s taken us so long to realize just how bad we are at that much of the time? What’s our commitment to changing and getting rid of the sorting and selecting? What are our next steps to support learning–of all kinds and about all topics and in depth and for personal reasons and to share passions?  What’s our dedication to opening our processes of learning to allow for personal leadership, inner wonder, dedicated questioning and resilient searching and building and making?

I’m looking for ideas as I write to learn…

Great Questions For Learning

“Interesting questions to engage kids as thinkers” means different things to different people.  My math collab teacher and I recently had a conference with a parent and we were describing our math class. When we said her child was really engaged with our problems, her response was ,”Oh, yeah, the word problems.”  I was initially confused by that–but thank goodness for my partner–she got it–the parent meant the handshake problem.

Okay, so that started me thinking…my initial thought was that no, we hadn’t been doing word problems. But, I guess you could categorize our shaking hands work as a word problem.  Then, my next thought was that all math problems should involve words. Then, I thought, no, when I see a problem on a piece of paper, it’s not necessarily about words.  Then I started thinking about what constitutes a word problem and what makes a good question?

We read Counting on Frank earlier in our math class and talked about “Henry questions” which are questions modeled after those in the book.  The kids wrote some they thought of here.

The third column is where we’ll go through them and see if we know how to solve such questions–then we’ll do that again at the end of the school year.

But, where do we get good questions to explore?  Here’s one source, a book called Good Questions for Math.  I especially love the ones that have multiple responses–that’s sometimes a great source of easy differentiation!  Here’s another, a pdf about asking effective questions.  And, yet another, Good Questions: Great Ways to Differentiate Mathematics Instruction, which is an awesome resource K-8 and would be great for a faculty book study! But I have to say, my absolute favorite source is the kids themselves…when they’re engaged, and trying honestly to figure something out, they ask the best questions. They also cause me to make connections and ask great questions. And what’s better than getting provoked to think deeply?

So here’s a couple of what I think are cool questions that just play around with numbers (and number sense) for you, my reader…

You multiply two integers.  The result is about 50 less than one of them. What might the two integers be?

Oh–don’t like that one?  Okay, try this–

A shape has some perpendicular sides and some parallel sides.  What might the shape be?

Or, try this:

Using the divisibility rule of three, make a five digit number that is a multiple of both three and five.

Do  you have any good ones to share, or another source of interesting questions?

Imaginary Numbers?

Okay, a second time I’m doing 2 posts in one day–but really, it won’t happen often!

Those of you who are mathematicians will know what I am referring to with that title–those of you who aren’t may not.
The bottom line is that my kids can’t wait for math tomorrow because they are going to learn about them. We are working on their sense of number, and I happen to believe that the more kids have the big picture, the more they are able to manipulate things within subsets of that big picture. Today’s agenda include talking about real and imaginary numbers–but we didn’t get to it.

I wish I’d had a video of the kids face as I finished one sentence (about consecutive numbers, which is what we had been working on) and then said, “Well, we’ll have to do real and imaginary numbers tomorrow, cause it’s past time–you guys have to go.” They were so disappointed we didn’t get to talk about imaginary numbers. I can’t imagine THAT! (as a kid, I mean…)

So what do you know about imaginary numbers?  Any good resources out there for a bunch of fifth grade geeks? If we don’t get to it tomorrow, I’d like to have some resources they could pore over at home. Thanks!




Hey. It’s only my opinion.

The Invisible Sister and The False Prince are two of the Virginia Young Reader’s Choice books.  Kids read from the list of books here and then vote on which ones they liked best. I wouldn’t vote for either of these and here’s why:

The Invisible Sister is a book about a family whose oldest child is born with a case of “Formulous Disappearus,” which simply means she was born invisible. The book is full of sibling fussing, with the younger brother, Frank’s, insecurities, being part of the reason for that bickering. The plot can be stated in one sentence, it’s not a particularly rich book for discussion, and I personally would never recommend it to a kid. However, I think it’s one kids will find funny, the events can be easily understood, kids will relate to the big sister’s picking on the younger brother, the nicknames Frank gives his neighbors may appeal to them, and the misunderstandings between Frank and his new friend Charlie will easily be understood by kid readers. Kids may really enjoy it–I thought it was pretty shallow, and the jokes or what were supposed to be funny parts just didn’t strike me as that funny.

Right now, I feel like saying something I see at the end of an opinion piece in a magazine I read regularly–“Hey, it’s only my opinion!”

And, as for The False Prince? Well, if you read my prior post mentioning it, you know once I began it, I couldn’t put it down until I finished (at 2AM) and then I promptly went to Amazon and downloaded the sequel, and read it through (going to sleep at 4:30 AM). I loved both books, for lots of reasons.

The story is a typical fantasy/lost and found prince retelling, with some very compelling friendship making (or unmaking) along the way. The characters, mostly put into some awful situations, are well drawn, interesting and there’s some great foreshadowing in this book that would be awesome to talk about with kids as they read it. It’s mostly realistic (within its realm of a make believe world) and the romance is kept to a reasonable amount, without descriptive scenes inappropriate for young kids. So why wouldn’t I vote for it?

Simply put, the violence.

I think the world is harsh enough and kids have to see/live with too much already.  Especially in this time of citizen journalism and explicit TV camera scenes of disasters, war, killings, beatings, etc. I prefer that the books my kids read not contain vivid pictures of cruelty and torture–which this book has. Whips are the preferred tool of torture…and the poor hero of the story continually had wounds that needed alcohol poured in them to not become infected. (That was one glaring inconsistency in this somewhat medieval fantasy world–a bottle of alcohol being readily available everywhere and people knowing to pour it in wounds to keep infection at bay. I think the only purpose for it was to increase the hurt one’s pain.)

And I don’t really care that it’s recommended for middle school. In middle school I began reading Heinlen and Asimov and a ton of other pretty thought-heavy books–but I don’t remember them having needless cruelty and descriptions of torture that had me picturing some pretty gruesome scenes of bloody backs. I tend to skip over that kind of text,  even as an adult, as it disturbs me…so I sure wouldn’t ask my 9 and 10 year olds to read it–though some of them will, since it’s on the list for a vote. It’s one of those books I think I’d rather talk to parents about before a kid reads it by getting it from me.

Hey.  It’s only my opinion.

These are some prior winners, by the way, in case you’re interested in checking them out:

  • 2012-2013 WINNERS

Primary: I Need My Monster by Amanda Noll (Flashlight Press)

Elementary: Frankie Pickle and the Closet of Doom by Eric Wight (Simon & Schuster)

Middle: Powerless by Matthew Cody (Random House)

High: Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan (Random House)

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