Category Archives: Understanding and Responding to the Larger Societal Context

We Integrate Language Development and Critical Thinking

I believe my “French Immersion appreciation” roots began to grow during the first 15 years of my teaching career; working alongside my French Immersion colleagues at Legal School, I began to see the benefits of the program. My roots grew even deeper with my daughter’s K-12 schooling in the French Immersion program in St. Albert Public Schools. These experiences laid the foundation for my work of supporting the French Immersion program in Parkland School Division. My own limited ability to communicate in French drives my desire to support French Immersion programming, wishing that I, too, would have had the French Immersion experience in my formative years.

Over the course of the 2015-2016 school year, Parkland School Division Grades 6-12 French Immersion teachers and students were deeply engaged in year three of our project, We Integrate Language Development And Critical Thinking (WILDACT). As the Curriculum Facilitator, I have the honor of leading and coordinating this 5-year project.

WILDACT has two main outcomes: increased student engagement (through critical thinking and assessment as learning) and increased French language acquisition. These two outcomes are interrelated in supporting student achievement in French Immersion classrooms.

This video captures the highlights of this year’s WILDACT journey.

Learning from a Childhood Hero

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Anne Frank, 1940 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Diary_of_a_Young_Girl )

On Remembrance Day this year, I watched a documentary about Anne Frank. This brought back the memory of my reading of The Diary of Anne Frank- a story that made a lasting impression on me. Anne Frank was definitely one of my childhood heroes!

A whole new understanding of Anne’s life was revealed through the documentary. I learned that there are several versions of The Diary. Apparently, the one I read was intended for children; the one where the reader is left to believe that Anne escaped the holocaust unscathed and lived to publish her story.  Much to my dismay, that is not the way things really turned out! The documentary taught me that the family was eventually apprehended, and Anne died of typhus in a concentration camp. Anne’s diary was found after her family was taken from their ‘hiding place’ and it eventually made its way to her father, Otto Frank, the only surviving member of her family. Otto eventually had several different versions of The Diary published. I’m actually quite happy that I didn’t know the real ending when I was 10 years old; even now, the reality is disturbing.

The documentary prompted me to go to the library to check out the other version. My reading experience this time around was, as you may expect, quite different… And it’s no surprise that I began to read from the perspective of an educator! The first part of The Diary, in particular,  lends itself to analyzing the education system of the 1940’s. Anne began to write in her diary several months before her family went into hiding, so I relished in reading the passages of Anne’s musings of her school experiences.

The following  3 excerpts resonated with me for various reasons…

From pages 10-11: “Betty Bloemendaal does very well at school, but that’s because she works so hard, not because she’s so smart.”  [This excerpt almost sounds like it could be a quote from Carol Dweck’s Mindset- very insightful thinking during a time when school systems were convinced that intelligence was a fixed trait.]

From page 11: “D.Q. is a very nervous girl who’s always forgetting things, so the teachers keep assigning her extra homework as punishment.” [No comment!]

From pages 16-17: “Our entire class is quaking in its boots. The reason, of course, is the upcoming meeting in which the teachers decide who’ll be promoted to the next grade and who’ll be kept back. From morning to  night, it’s ‘You’re going to pass,’ ‘No, I’m not,’ ‘Yes, you are’… teachers are the most unpredictable creatures on earth. I’m not so worried about my girlfriends and myself. We’ll make it. The only subject I’m not sure of is math. Anyway, all we can do is wait. Until then, we keep telling each other not to lose heart.” [Did the students feel that the teachers just randomly determined whether or not they would pass to the next grade? Were they not cognizant of the extent to which they successfully met the learning outcomes? When  we know better, we do better, and I, for one, am glad that we now know better than to “keep students back.” I am also happy that we are consciously working towards a system where all students know what the learning outcomes are, understand that learning happens along a continuum, that different students in their class may be different points on the learning continuum and may need different levels of support to help them move forward – and THAT’S OKAY.]

The experience you bring to a reading really does define what you take away from it. Thank you, Anne Frank, for enlightening me, yet again, with the words in your diary.  You are an even bigger hero to me, now that I know the real ending.

 

 

 

Math Minds- An Innovative Project

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Math Minds is a project committed to enhancing the development of numeracy skills in early years’ students. This post reveals some of the components of the Math Minds project, which I’m certain we’ll be  hearing more about as the project progresses.

Canadian Oilsands Limited has invested $3 million as part of a 5 year commitment in this initiative to enhance numeracy competencies in young students, and to build teachers’ capacity to do so. Much of the $ is being used to fund teachers’ professional growth. The participating school(s) will use Jump Math as the lens for instructional practice and programming. Jump Math is also learning along the way, and will work to enhance their program based on the findings.

The goal is for Calgary to become an “excellence in math centre”, and if successful, Canadian Oilsands hopes to be able to replicate this model in other areas of the country. The project is working to create a model school(s) where guests will be able to visit to see promising math practices in action. They also hope that the model school(s) can be place(s) where teachers can participate in a possible residency program for a year to build their capacity, after which time they would go back to their own school and be a lead math teacher.

In addition to providing the model school(s) with the Jump Math training and other professional development, part of Math Minds initiative also trains volunteers (pre-service teachers from the University of Calgary as well as members of the community) to tutor students after school using the Jump Math Tutor program, through the Boys and Girls Club. During the conference, I was sitting with 2 people who are math tutors at the Boys and Girls Club. They shared some of the successes they are seeing through the use of Jump Math.

Jump Math is a not for profit organization that has developed grades 1 – 8 math programs, for classroom teachers, tutors and parents.

Several speakers at the MathConnect Conference spoke about their work with Jump Math.

The University of Calgary is endorsing Jump Math, saying it is a good blend of discovery learning and explicit instruction. It breaks down the concepts and teaches the teachers themselves the concepts, so they can understand them in a deeper way, and in turn, teach them in a better way. It helps teachers determine what early skills the students are missing, so those skills can be developed to enable students to learn skills further along the developmental continuum. It supports the research that shows that early deficits have a cumulative effect, and that success in early math skills are a better predictor of success in later years, than success in early literacy skills.

Elisha Bonnis, an elementary school teacher with Vancouver Board of Education shared how Jump Math helped her overcome feelings of inadequacy in math. It helped her learn the basic skills and knowledge she was missing, and helped her to realize she CAN indeed DO and TEACH math. The philosophy behind Jump Math reflects Dr. Dweck’s Mindset research. Elisha offered the advice that if teachers do decide to use the program, to follow the teacher’s guide, as its explicit teaching method helps uncover the skills that students are missing, and helps them develop those skills so they can be successful in learning and growing from the discovery activities.

If you’re interested, all the teacher, tutor and parent Jump Math lessons are available, for free, on their website.  The student consumable books are available for purchase. http://jumpmath.org/cms/

All in all, Math Minds sounds like a very worthwhile project!  I know I’m going to be keeping tabs on its progress. What do you think?

Why do we Resist the Evidence?

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Sunrise at Haleakala, Maui- the dawning of a new day…

The MathConnect Conference  in Calgary on February 2 hosted a colorful spectrum of speakers http://mathconnect.org/wp/presenters/

The following write-up summarizes messages about teaching math that I took away from some of the presentations.

Dr. Carol S. Dweck

As noted near the end of my Mindset blog, many students have given up on math because they believe they are not good at math, and will never “get” math.

Teachers and parents are supporting a fixed mindset when they tell students, “Don’t worry, not everyone is good at math.”  This kind of feedback writes kids off, gives kids lower confidence that they could ever do it, releases them from the responsibility of ever doing well in math.

On the other hand, teacher who are developing a growth mindset would say, “Let’s break this down even further and try some strategies together to see how you can get better.” When teachers and students believe skills can be developed, it opens students up to learning.

The highlight of my day definitely was meeting Dr. Carol Dweck in person. I got to tell her about our Learning Services’ team’s Mindset book study, how we involved ourselves in examining our mindsets, as individuals and as a team, and how we continually reflect on our growth.

Dr. Rafael Núñez

Dr. Núñez’ presentation worked to uncover the topic, “Where does math come from; making sense of human ideas.”

“Mathematics is a paradoxical conceptual system.”

  • Math concepts are not directly perceivable through the human senses. For example, we cannot see infinity…
  • Mathematical entities are imagined by humans, not visible in our environment, so how can we make sense of them?

Can we relate mathematics to other kinds of perception? If we can, maybe we can use those relationships to help us teach math. Conceptual metaphors help fictive motions make human imagination possible.

Metaphors– For example we can perceive the domain from a cold heart to a warm heart, so maybe numbers are also perceived as a domain, as if they have a location in space.

Fictive motion– “We often talk effortlessly about static objects as if they were moving.” For example, “The fence stops after the tree.” The conception we construe in that the fence is moving may provide the inferential structure required to conceive mathematical functions as having motion and directionality.

Gestures– we use hand and body gestures to enhance communication; to help the speaker express him/herself, which in turn, help the listener make meaning. Perhaps the intentional use of relevant gestures in teaching mathematics could support students in construing meaning as well.

Are there any mathematics that are hard-wired- the basic number line perhaps? Is this an embedded part of the brain, or something we need to learn?  Núñez’ Yupno Study concluded that mapping a number to a point in space doesn’t come naturally-it seems that something as simple as a number line is not inherent, it is learned, and so, we need to intentionally teach it. If this basic simple model in math is not understood, concepts that depend its understanding will not be understood.

Núñez’ summarized his message by saying that “the portrait of mathematics has a human face”; articulating meaning is necessary because mathematics is such a complex conceptual system.

Also, like development along a continuum, the understanding of mathematical concepts relies on the understanding of previous concepts. If we do not understand what comes before, we will not understand what comes after.

Diane Chang

Diana is the Program Coordinator of the Robertson Program for Inquiry-based Teaching.  During her presentation, Diana shared the “Math for Young Children: A Lesson Study Research Project” that she is working on. The driver behind this project is current research showing that success in early math skills are a better predictor of success in later years, than success in early literacy skills.

The lesson study involved a step-by-step approach.

  1. With the support of facilitators, teachers did a lot of reading and professional learning about some key concepts in mathematics. They then chose a topic they wanted to focus their work on.
  2. Students’ strengths and needs were assessed in this chosen topic. Teachers interviewed students and got them to work on some activities to see where their development was at in that concept area.
  3. Based on the findings from the work with students, the team of teachers and facilitator co-designed exploratory lessons to help students develop their skills and overcome some misconceptions. During the exploratory lessons, the teachers observed each other’s students.
  4. After debriefing to determine explicitly what needed to be taught to move the students forward in their development, the teachers built “public lessons” that they would all teach.
  5. Teachers taught the public lesson.
  6. Teachers debriefed the lesson and determined next steps.

The “public lessons” the teachers co-developed, as well as a summary of the Lesson Study can be found on Math for Young Children space on the Trent Math Education Research Collaboration website.

Why do we Resist the Evidence?

At the end of the day, the presenters assembled as a panel to address questions from the audience. A question one person asked was, “Why do we resist the evidence- why do we ignore the research and continue to use teaching methods that are not always the most effective?” Should we not embrace new evidence just as we embrace the dawning of a new day?

The panel offered several indirect responses to the question, and I also have some theories of my own, but I’d love to hear your response to the question, “…so why DO we resist the evidence?”

Growth Mindset – So much Promise for Education

wildflower_May 2012_Lac La Nonne_ Diane Lander

On Saturday, I had the opportunity to attend the MathConnect Conference in Calgary. The first keynote speaker of the day was Carol S. Dweck Ph.D., author of Mindset.

Dr. Dweck’s “research focuses on why students succeed and how to foster their success. More specifically, her work has demonstrated the role of mindsets in success and has shown how praise for intelligence can undermine students’ motivation and learning.” (http://mathconnect.org/wp/presenters/)

Although I learned a lot about her work through the Mindset book study our Learning Services team participated in last year, it was great to hear her story in person. I am using this blog post to share some elements of the presentation that stood out most for me.

Dr. Dweck told us that Alfred Benet originally developed the IQ test to see which students weren’t succeeding with the current curriculum, and used the results to change that curriculum. Like other theories and concepts that have been applied out of context (e.g. Bloom’s Taxonomy, Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences), educators have misconstrued the intent of the IQ test, and the result has led to the idea of intelligence being a fixed trait.

Current research shows “the brain can be developed like a muscle”; every time you stretch out of comfort zone, neurons grow new connections. So intelligence CAN be developed.

2 Opposing Beliefs

Fixed mindset– intelligence is a fixed trait

Growth mindset– intelligence is a malleable quality; a potential that can be developed

As a result of her research, Dweck has developed several “mindset rules” which help us differentiate between fixed and growth mindsets:

Rule 1:

Fixed mindset– look smart at all costs; tell me when I’m right

Growth mindset– learn at all costs; tell me when I’m wrong

Students with a growth mindset care more about learning than about grades. Good grades are the bi-product of effort and a successful learning path, not of an innate intelligence.

Rule 2:

Fixed mindset– learning should come naturally; if you have ability you shouldn’t need effort

Growth mindset– work hard, effort is key; ability is increased over time

Geniuses are a result of the work and effort they put in over time- building on successes and addressing their shortcomings, over and over again; continually trying until they succeed.

Rule 3:

Fixed mindset– hide mistakes: In the face of setbacks, these students said they would spend less time on the subject from now on, why spend time on something I’m not good at?

Growth mindset– capitalize on mistakes, formulate new strategies to address the problem. In the face of setbacks, these students said they’d spend more time studying and work harder in class.

Rule 4:

Fixed mindset– Praising intelligence develops a fixed mindset- in Carol’s research, these kids wanted a task that they could easily be successful on.

Growth mindset– Praising process and effort develops a growth mindset- these kids wanted a harder task that they could learn from.

Human beings are born as natural learners, so how do we make sure our students remain learners? Kids are tuned in to what the environment values; if we value effort, hard work, and progression of skill development, they will, too. Growth mindset has kids embrace learning and growth, and understand the role of effort in creating talent; it can be taught everyday in our classrooms.

How can we help students develop a growth mindset?

  • Praise effort, struggles and persistence despite setbacks.
  • Praise the strategies they try and choices they make.
  • Praise choosing difficult tasks, praise learning and improving; do not praise marks
  • Use the word YET- “not yet” puts you on a learning trajectory- “I’m not there yet, but I will get there.”

How does this relate to teaching math?

Many students have given up on math because they believe they are not good at math, and will never “get” math.

Fixed mindset– Teachers comfort students who are doing poorly, telling them, “Don’t worry, not everyone is good at math.”  This kind of feedback writes kids off, gives kids lower confidence that they could ever do it, releases them from the responsibility of ever doing well in math.

Growth mindset – Teacher says, “Let’s work to understand what you are not getting, and try some strategies to see how you can get better.” When teacher and students believe skills can be developed, it opens students up to learning.

Mindset Website http://www.mindsetworks.com/default.aspx

Students are very interested in how their brains work and how they can get smarter. I’m really excited about the Brainology application Dweck’s team has developed. “Brainology raises students’ achievement by helping them develop a growth mindset.” Guided by Brain Orb, students learn how the brain works, how we learn, and some brain-based learning strategies.

The website also has a teacher toolkit to support teachers in developing a growth mindset in their classroom.

Our students are so fortunate that our school division is embracing Dr. Dweck’s work. Won’t it be great when all of our students demonstrate a growth mindset!!

Critical Thinking as a Way of Teaching

“Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think.” Albert Einstein

What should I write about for my first post, the post that by the very nature of its hierarchical position, indicates that the topic is of utmost importance to me right now? It would be remiss of me to write about anything other than critical thinking!

Critical thinking has been identified by researchers as one of the competencies that students need in order to be successful in the 21st century. In its Framework for Student Learning publication, Alberta Education has identified critical thinking as one of the 7 Competencies for 21st Century Learning.

With so much talk about critical thinking, it seems odd that there is still so much confusion around how to teach students to be critical thinkers. “Critical thinking” conjures up such misconceptions as teaching students to criticize, or to look for flaws in everything they read and view. When you come to know critical thinking, you realize that it has nothing at all to do with criticizing!

When people discuss critical thinking, it tends to have as many definitions as there are people in the discussion. The definition I have come to champion is that critical thinking is about “making a judgement in light of relevant factors or criteria.”  I love how Roland Case, co-founder and CEO of The Critical Thinking Consortium (TC2), defines critical thinking in the first minute of this video clip from LearnAlberta.ca

Critical Thinking as an Effective Way of Teaching

A misconception of the critical thinking approach is that it is about teaching skills rather than content. In fact, the critical thinking approach is about teaching and assessing both skills and knowledge outcomes, along with the thinking tools, resulting in students learning the content more deeply.

Over the past three years, Parkland School Division (PSD) has embarked on a journey to embed the TC2 Critical Thinking Model into teaching and learning. At first, it did not come naturally for us to teach using the model; it was a huge shift in our way of teaching… in our way of thinking. When we are teaching students to think critically, we are no longer transmitters of knowledge, but instead, designers of learning experiences; we ask questions and design tasks that have children make judgments in light of relevant criteria that we co-create, and we have them support their judgment with evidence from the content.

Are we all experts in the critical thinking approach at this point? No, absolutely not, and we’re not expected to be; we’re all at different places in the implementation journey, and that’s absolutely okay. I concur with the advice Roland Case gives us in this video clip:

Advice to Teachers

Through my work in supporting implementation of the TCCritical Thinking Model in PSD, I have seen several significant shifts in practice:

  1. Increased use of criteria to help make judgements
  2. Increase in intentional collaborative work as a way of learning
  3. Shift from reliance on pencil and paper tasks, to teachers posing authentic problems to engage students in learning subject area content
  4. Shift in assessment practice; greater focus on self-assessment and peer coaching
  5. Intentionally teaching the tools of critical thinking

Along with changes in teacher practice comes growth in student outcomes. Our teachers are reporting these things:

  1. All levels of thinking are supported through the Critical Thinking Model
  2. Less academic students are experiencing noted success and are becoming leaders in classroom conversations
  3. Vocabulary development is enhanced
  4. Students are more creative and more willing to take risks
  5. Assessment for and as learning are becoming more prevalent

Upon considering the huge potential this approach has in supporting the educational shift – moving from the left side of the continuum where teachers “cover the outcomes”, over to the right side where teachers engage students in “uncovering the outcomes”-  how can one NOT be excited about critical thinking as a way of teaching!

I’d love to hear about your experiences with teaching critical thinking. Do you have any gems to share or any lessons learned?