Monday, May 16, 2016

Taking risks in maths teaching - QLC

Newer than 1960 math of course...

For today's quality learning conversation (QLC) we were asked to focus on mathematics as this has been our professional development focus. Having a shared topic immediately had us all engaged and asking questions to help further our thinking. Interestingly all of our wonderings/concerns/fears were the same! So let me unpack them a bit further in my context.

1) When trying something new there is always uncertainty about whether you are doing the "right" thing. There is also the added pressure of external reporting. What exactly does assessment look like when you totally flip the way you are teaching? What does that look like when planning? Are we using the right assessments?

2) What does the structure of the lesson look like now? What does the week look like? How on earth do you fit everything in?

3) How do I ensure I am meeting the needs of all my learners? How do I know that the quiet ones (less vocal) are learning? How do I spread myself to be in more than one place at once?

So these are the questions I am asking at the moment and it seems that everyone else is asking these too. From our conversation I have decided to focus on a couple of things:

  • If we value this new way of teaching maths how do we show that we value it in our reports? I need to be gathering some anecdotal notes about the way that students are collaborating, participating, discussing and risk-taking.
  • I need to focus on the above things as positive outcomes and trust that this will be reflected in summative assessment later in the year. I have already seen huge changes in the way that students are approaching maths tasks and I really value the culture of being able to take risks, challenge and value each others thinking and learning.
  • Talking chips (thanks Kelly!) could be a way to increase participation of those who are being quieter and/or make those with a lot to say to hold back a little to allow the quieter ones to have a chance.
  • Perhaps the planning cycle looks different for all levels/contexts. I am thinking that once my Stage 7/8 learners have truly explored fractions, decimals and ratios then the rest of the year will be full of rich open tasks that weave in their learning with the strands. I look forward to the possibilities!
I have absolutely LOVED the mathematics PD that we have had so far and totally believe in it's value. Like any new thing it will take time to implement and feel comfortable with but it is incredibly awesome to have the freedom and flexibility to take those risks and try things out.

Monday, May 2, 2016


I always say that I want my students to be resilient.

I think (in my head) that resilience is something you just get from moments of failure, of trying again. For feeling the fear and doing it anyway. Those things that make you stronger mentally to cope with the next challenge.

What I hadn't thought about was what do our students need that resilience for now in terms of their mental health.

This article looks at the mental health of New Zealand teenagers and the increased amount of teens taking medication for depression and anxiety.  The article was timely as I had just had a discussion with a dear friend of mine about her own teenage son and his battle (well more her battle) with what is clinical depression and what is just normal teenage emotional development.  I was horrified to hear that half of his friends are on anti-depressants. It made me wonder about quick fixes, trends and what on earth is happening????

The article suggests that the current generation of teenagers may not have the resilience to cope with increasing pressures or "triggers" of today's society.  I want to stop at the point and come back to my role as a teacher. Is the resilience I am trying to build in my classroom enough? Are the students who are in primary now better prepared for what's to come? Were our current teens "cotton-wooled" as the article suggests? Can I do more?

Then I read this awesome article on the Minecraft Generation from the New York Times. Here are these students who create their own problems for each other. One student quotes within his creative landscape: "The journey matters more than what you get in the end". And here we are back to one of my favourite things in education: Play.  The unpredictable nature of play, the social nature of play and the unmistakable way in which play can be a rehearsal for life. So how does this fit in with the resilience/mental health train of thought? Well in minecraft kids are constantly hacking the system and making it work for them, they negotiate and create their own communities, rules and manage resources. They are effectively solving the world's problems while playing a game (Seth Frey).

So our students are capable, and they have shown themselves to be capable and resilient problem solvers in these online gaming environments. So how can we use this to encourage our students to use their skills in the real world?  And if I/we are successful in building up resilience in the classroom environment how much of this will spill out into their "real world"?

Interestingly Francis Valentine from The Mindlab recently quoted in this article that what we are doing in education now will take another 6 years to see the impact. This will happen when our problem solving, critical thinkers begin university and start questioning (those practices?). So what I am interested in keeping in the loop with is the resilience of young people. Are we making a difference? And perhaps I too will have to wait 6 years to see those results... (hence my documentation of my thinking at this time).