Friday, November 30, 2012

Maybe we should call it the shifted classroom:

Please click through all the slides, this has consumed me for about 2 weeks. It's a visual description of the flipped class AND its benefits. Comments and feedback hysterically welcome (in case the scribd version doesn't work for you, see the slideshare version below): Flip o Graphic

Note: The scribd version doesn't seem to be working in chrome or firefox, so here it is on slideshare:

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Wanted: Ideas for "good" help

The very day after the class I posted about here, I continued in my quest to control my explaining habit. Math help was out of the question but I used the rule of thumb that they could get math help from a peer without any penalty. But I needed something to do....I mean I am the teacher! Thankfully, I found a few things I could do with a clear conscience. And if you have anything to add to the list, I would be eternally grateful:

Be a catalyst:
  • One student told me he got his solution in two different ways but didn't get the same result. He asked if I could help him find the mistake, because he had tried and was getting frustrated. I figured it would be better if he compared his results with someone else, so I asked for volunteers to put their results on the board. Not all students have the confidence to put themselves out there on their own initiative, so my role was to be the catalyst. Once one or two graphs were up on the board, the rest followed more easily. Comparisons were made, discussions ensued, mistakes were found. Strength in numbers! 
Help them find the hole:
  • Whenever I was asked for help, I started by saying "Tell me what you've done so far." First off, this helps them organize their thoughts. Also, while they do this, I have to be constantly asking questions, like, how did you get this result, how did you verify these calculations, what do you know, what are you looking for...and if the answer to any of these is I didn't do that or I don't know, it helps them zoom in on the hole in their work ethic, not their math.
  • Even those who are marching along at a good clip can benefit from explaining their work, to me or to a peer, because that can be a practice run at how they will present their solution.
Get them modelling:
  • One student, let's say her name is Claire, listened to one group's explanation of their procedures, then later, while working with a different group, said she hadn't understood the first group's work, and so had figured out her own way. I asked Claire to explain her way to the second group. That group then benefited not only mathematically, but emotionally. She used their own language, AND it was great modelling - here's someone who got stuck, tried out something else, then persisted until she found her own way. I can say "persist!" until the cows come home, but when they see a peer actually doing it, it's got gravitas.
Give presentation guidance:
Nice colour coding by a student!
I made suggestions for how their final work might look:
  • headings for sections
  • colour coding
  • introduction/conclusion paragraph
  • outline procedure first then give details
  • validate and show your validation
  • do the whole thing paper-free

Offer technical help:
  • A student was trying to read points from his graph, which he had created from excel using just a few data points. From his responses to my "find the hole" questions, I guessed that his graph didn't have the accuracy he needed (remember I can't see them, or their work instantly), so I suggested he do it using geogebra, which can produce a graph from a rule. I had already introduced geogebra, and I had told them they could use it for this problem, but I think he was stuck in a rut, always using the same tool, never considering that another might be better for this case.
  • Some were working on their final presentation and needed help like how to take a snapshot and paste it into a word doc or ppt, or how to get proper math notation and symbols into the same.
Final thoughts:

  • Of course, it all depends. Pretty much all of the above ideas came to me during and after a class with a highly motivated and active core group of students. They're the spark plugs in the problem-solving engine. But in a class without those spark plugs, where no one ever asks you for help, or no one offers help, none of this would happen without additional prodding from me. Which makes it all feel so old-school to me, so do-this-because-I-told-you-to-not-because-you-want-to. Maybe that's just a question of finding problems that are more engaging for that particular group....

More suggestions?

  • If you have any other ideas of what kind of help teachers can give students that will truly help them tackle problems, other than explaining the entire solution to them, I'd love to hear them!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Real bullying

So many tv shows and movies portray bullying as an overt, intentional, and violent act that's easy to spot. And it's easy to distinguish the bullies from the bullied. My own experience with it, as a kid and as a parent, is very different. Sometimes it's more about what doesn't happen, and what you don't see. And more importantly, on some level, at some point, everyone participates on the bullying side, whether or not they meant to. I'll explain with a few examples from my life:

Conflicting agendas

When my son was in grade 3 or 4, at a school I'll call ABC School, he witnessed his best friend being bullied. Kevin (not his real name) had hurt his leg on the playground, and as he was crying from the pain, some kids made fun of him and even kicked his leg, which, as it later turned out, was broken. My son came home extremely upset, told me about it, and I wrote a note to his teacher informing her of what had happened. I figured someone should know about it, and I wanted my son to know that he had done the right thing in telling me. I remember ending the note with something like "I know ABC school does not tolerate bullying," because that was the message that had come home in writing prior to this incident.

In he went the next day with the note. I went to work. Mid-morning, I received a phone call from an irate principal of ABC School. I will never forget this conversation as long as I live. I was scolded for using the word bullying, because that word is so strong and so negative, and could give the wrong impression of a school, so please do not use this word to describe what happened. I responded by saying that my son had certainly seen SOMETHING, and that I thought the school would want to at least find out more. He said, "I already asked Kevin. He said nothing happened, there was no bullying." Gee, I can think of a good reason why a bullied kid would lie about that, but anyway, that was the principal's story and he was sticking to it. He clearly didn't want bad publicity for ABC School.

Meanwhile, a very different reaction was taking place in the realm of the teachers. When my son came home that day, he told me that at morning recess, the teachers had gathered all the kids from the whole grade into one class, and no one was allowed to leave until the bullies confessed.

And they had! Interesting note - based on the timing, I was pretty sure these confessions happened at the same moment the principal was on the phone telling me no bullying had happened.

Quite a difference between the principal's reaction and the teachers' eh? Clearly, the principal's agenda conflicted with the teachers'. And Kevin's, and my son's, if kids that age can even have them. Being able to see what had happened was just not possible for someone who needed to not see it.

Bullying by compliance

Soon after my daughter started attending XYZ high school, she told me about a girl in her grade that everyone called, I'll say, Frog. The consensus was that she was obnoxious and unattractive. But she didn't seem to mind, in fact, she laughed whenever someone called her that. So no harm done right? Except that this girl was being dehumanized, and I was pretty sure it hurt, and that she was doing a good job of hiding it.

I was so upset to hear this, as a mother and a teacher, that I called the school, and told the vice principal about it. He was very kind, very professional, also very upset, and thanked me for telling him. He assured me he would do something about it. I'll never forget that conversation either, mainly because I had steeled myself for something entirely different.

Soon after that, I asked my daughter if anything had been done about it. She thought for a second and said, "Oh that must be what that talk was about in homeroom. The vice principal came in and told us that bullying is wrong and we should tell someone if we see it happening."

That was it. Now, I know he meant well, but let's face it, those words likely fell on deaf ears. How many times had they heard this? And why would they listen this time, especially when no one knew what specific incident had brought it on? But even more importantly, his voice didn't have the power to change anyone's perception. As sincere as he might have been, he just said what a vice principal is supposed to say. Even my daughter, a nice kid, who never called anyone names, still had the idea that no bullying had happened. So people were complying with not only the status quo, but with the perceived attitude of the victim.

Enter the age of the authentic voice

Last week @intrepidteacher tweeted this about one of his students:

It's an eloquent and painfully honest post by a brave student about being shunned, which is a form of bullying with which I am all too familiar. Here it is. Go have a read, I'll wait.

Now THIS is an authentic voice! It got my attention, it got the attention of a LOT of people on twitter, and you can see by the comments that it got the attention of OTHER KIDS! Imagine the relief, the shock, the introspection, the awareness, sensitization, well you get the idea, that arose from the writing, posting, reading, and reacting to this post!
  • This writer found out he was not alone in feeling this way
  • other kids found out what it felt like to be shunned
  • other kids found out that they were not alone
  • other kids had to face the undeniable fact that they were participants in hurting someone
  • teachers, administrators, and parents got a big eye-opening because this came straight from the victim

...and you cannot help but believe him, not only because of how it's written, but because there is nothing interfering with his message, no one spinning it or burying it or viewing it through a distorted lens for their own agenda. Ok, Jabiz tweeted it, but that's just more bravery.

Imagine if the girl in my daughter's high school had been given the opportunity to express her feelings like this? Imagine students in her school reading it, thinking, wow that's so mean of people to do that, and then finding out at the end of the post that she was a girl in their own class, and that they had unwittingly participated in her suffering? I can only hope that's happening right now in the school of this young man. And I can only hope that that poor girl at XYZ High has found out somehow that she doesn't have to play along with the bullies and laughingly shrug off hurtful comments.

More than ever, I am convinced that getting kids to write and giving them an audience might just be the best line of defense against all kinds of bullying, overt or otherwise. At least it's the best way to convince everyone, the bullies, the victims, and everyone in between, that it happens, it's real, and it hurts.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Hi. I'm Audrey. And I'm an Explain-aholic.

Here is my story. It starts yesterday.

Yesterday, I gave my students a situational problem to work on, which is the term we use here in Quebec for a problem that is rather complex, involves many steps, and has many possible correct answers. For example, design a house that has a total living area between such and such m², and costs no more than such and such to build, given these materials and constraints etc etc.  I've grown to love these problems, but they always seem to bring out one of my biggest weaknesses as a teacher, that is, as I've confessed, that I am an Explainaholic.

One of the things this type of assessment is supposed to measure is the student's ability to independently move forward in the problem. As such, I told the kids, as I always do at the beginning of a situational problem: "You can ask me for help, but if I help you, it's gonna cost you. Not money, marks."

But then I always fold like a house of cards as soon as someone goes all helpless and floppy and sad. For I am all too happy to swoop down and.....EXPLAIN.

Not this time. I just wrote a post right here acknowledging that I have a bad addiction to explaining the life out of everything, so I felt armed and ready to resist temptation. I faced my addiction like a Gladiator. Strength and honour.

So for each class, I put the kids into breakout rooms, which is equivalent to pods in the brick and mortar classroom. Then I waited and watched. In my first class, no major breakthroughs happened, and no one asked me for any help, which is fine, that's what I want, right? But not right somehow.

But in my second class, about 10 minutes into their breakout room time, I saw that a student in one room, I'll call him Evan, had made a breakthrough. He didn't seem to know that he had, and he didn't know what to do next, but he was onto something. So I let Evan and his group chew on it a bit. They asked me if I could give them a nudge, and I am proud to say, I said no. But I wanted everyone to sink their teeth into it and move it forward, so I moved the rest of the class into that room, one by one, and said, here you go, no marks lost if you get help from someone besides me.....

More progress was made, and there was even some checking of results using geogebra, at which point I began weeping tears of joy. Because geogebra is another addiction, but I think it's a good one, and I'm all too happy to create new geogebra addicts.

Then, in a moment of weakness...

....I buckled. Yes, I am sorry to say, I decided to give them a hint. Don't know why. I spoke. "You have 2 unknowns and only one equation."

And..........they couldn't hear me! Some glitch in our virtual environment actually made my voice not get through, but they could still hear each other! It was divine cyber intervention saying:


Well that didn't stop me, of course, because I could still write on the board, which (cringe) I did, BUT all I did was to circle the equation they had written, write "equation #1" next to it, then "equation #2?" I heard and saw a lot of "OHHHHHHH!!" 's. Love that. Addicted to that too.

At this point I REALLY needed to talk, but not to explain, just to remind them about tutoring tonight, etc, because we were almost out of class time, so I did a few things to try to restore my audio, and by the time I finished that, the period had ended. But I seemed to be the only one who noticed, because they kept right on working. I'm not saying every single student was talking, but they were all still there, a good 5 minutes after class ended. There was a core of 4 or 5 kids who were doing the writing and talking, but the rest were still there.

There's more!

That's not the end of the story, though. It just so happened that last night at tutoring, which all students can attend, I had mostly customers from my first period, which, remember, was the group that hadn't really gotten anywhere. But I had ONE student from the second class, and I repeated what I had said, that if she helped them out, it was ok. I'll call her Courtney.

"Courtney," I said, "would you mind telling these ladies what happened in our class today?"

"Well, " she answered, "I didn't really understand what those guys were doing." she replied.

"@#!%#@$#^@^#%^" I said to myself. "Steady, strength and honour, hold the line," said the Gladiator. Sigh. My Russell. FOCUS AUDREY.

"But," Courtney continued, "I figured it out myself afterward."

My brain: "Sorry, what?"

And then she proceeded to show the others what she had done to get that second equation, which was actually a bit different than what Evan had done. More "OHHHHH!!!!" 's from the others. It gave me goosebumps. So proud of myself. Oh and my students too.

  • In disallowing my help, but allowing their help, have I just re-routed my addiction, AND fed their's, so that someone else is delivering the goods? Or does hearing it from a peer, someone in the same boat as them, have a different effect that's worthwhile? Is that the social aspect of learning?
  • Did everyone get somewhere, or just the kids who were talking and writing?
  • Does this mean that next time we do a sit prob, some of the kids will just wait around for someone else to figure it out and tell them? I mean what do they care who it is that's explaining, as long as they don't lose marks, right?
  • How do the kids who made the breakthrough feel? Like everyone else benefited unfairly from their work? Or did it benefit them too, because as we all know, when you have to explain something you end up understanding it all the better?
  • How can I make transparent whatever skills Evan and Courtney used to make that first breakthrough? Is it something the others can reproduce? And what is it? Just plain math ability? Confidence? Organized notes?
Maybe today I'll spend some time letting them discuss/process how this breakthrough came about, so that everyone will have a better chance at doing it next time. Maybe later, not sure when would be best. Strike when the iron's hot?

Saturday, November 10, 2012

My Teaching Fixes

By fix, I mean something that I absolutely must have, but that isn't, strictly speaking, good for me. For example, I have to get my bagel fix once a week, and I don't mean just any bagel, I mean Montreal-style bagels.

If you have tried a real Montreal bagel, you know what I mean. If you haven't, well, you might be able to live a relatively happy life, I don't know, with support from your family and all. Or you could come to Montreal.

The thing is, it's an indulgence, especially the slabs of cream cheese....but I do indulge once in a while because it seems to quiet that inner bagel monster long enough so I can get on with my life. So.....

What are my fixes as a teacher?

Well, there are things that I need that I probably shouldn't. Somehow these things make me feel like I'm doing a good job, and I know, that's really about me, not my students, I get it. But maybe if I acknowledge it, give into it just a little, like that bagel, I can control it....

  • I need to make my students laugh.
  • I need to be creative.
  • I need to witness the moment when something clicks in a student's head, that "OHHHHH I get it now!"
  • I need someone to say to me "Audrey you are doing a phenomenal job." And that someone can be me, that's not a problem. It usually is.
  • I need their marks to be high THERE I'VE SAID IT!
  • I need a bagel. Oh sorry. Already covered that. With a metric ton of cream cheese.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Have a look at what online looks like to me

Online Education - How do you react when you hear those words? Be honest, at least with yourself - do you automatically lower your expectations? Or worse, do you stop listening? I hope you will listen for just a few seconds longer this time.

Some things I heard said at the iNACOL VSS 2012 conference have prompted me to write this post. The word online itself needs to be clarified first, and I have blogged about that here, but today I'd like to address what seems to be a perception that online education is somehow not as good as "the real thing". That it ISN'T, in fact, "the real thing". Now I'm not saying it's all wine and roses, and as I said before, there's good and bad on both sides of the fence, but I worry that a huge group of teachers who are immensely gifted and dedicated are being written off without a moments' thought.

First here's a video I made from my actual classes, from today. This is what online is for me and my students at LearnQuebec. I want to make sure everyone reading this (all 1 of you) gets what it is I do for a living, in fact what it is a lot of folks out there do for a living, and a video is worth a thousand words. And by the way, I taped this today, not knowing I'd be using it here, so I have had to block my students' names to protect their privacy. The purple callouts are my comments for you:

As you can see, it's a live class, and we do the same kinds of things you do in your brick and mortar, we just don't happen to be in the same physical space. I've had 20 years' experience in the brick and mortar, and the last 5 years online, and I love teaching online. Here are some pro's and cons:

Online pro's
  • Being able to have a private conversation with a student during the class, and I do mean private, not only does no one else know what's being said but no one knows that it's even happening
  • being able to have a class even when the roads are full of snow (this also appears in the con list)
  • can have way more kids writing on board at same time, most I ever had on chalk board was 4, and on a smartboard it's 1 (although I hear on the promethean one more than 1 can write)
  • all the kids are already on a computer, so all online tools available to me and them, no need to book the computer lab
  • not having to be constantly pulled away from teaching to do things like supervision, open house, detentions
  • I have my own comp, printer, phone, scanner, don't need to share with anybody
  • typing skills have grown exponentially
  • completely comfortable with online presence, twitter etc because it's so necessary for us, we go above and beyond to connect since we're deprived of f2f most of the time
  • so much more connected with my students than I ever was in the classroom and I'm not even sure I know why this is! Probably the flipping.
Online cons:
  • no f2f, which means a lot of communication is left out
  • hard to get kids who don't know each other and have never seen each other to work together and be comfortable with each other
  • there is no such thing as a ped day or a snow day
  • don't get to see other teachers everyday, miss those convos that happen on your way past someone's desk with ppl in other departments. I used to LOVE the french department, those ladies really knew how to live
  • miss out on school spirit since teach so many different schools
But here's the thing, what it boils down to is this: good teaching is good teaching, wherever it happens.

And some students do well in the online class, but not all, just like in brick and mortar.

But you don't have to take my word for it. At VSS 2012, we heard from some kids about why THEY love their online classes, and their reasons were show-stopping, ranging from escaping from bullying and drug addiction to an opportunity to be the first in a family to go to college. In our case, we are helping kids who would otherwise not get the credits they need to go to college. Our kids write the same end of year exams as everyone else in Quebec, no special deals for them.

Phew. That feels good to get that out. Now I'll wait for the barrage of comments. From my mom.