Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Professional Development Keeps Things Going

I am a self-confessed super duper fan of Professional Development (PD).  It keeps me fresh, focused, reflective and continually engaged in improving my teaching practice.

Yesterday, as I reflected upon PD that I have undertaken since January, I realized that this has been a wonderfully full year for me in terms of PD.  I am delighted with the conferences and courses that I have chosen and am looking forward to two more.

I thought I'd take a moment to reflect on my year's PD in preparation for my year-end Teacher Professional Growth Plan (TPGP) review and wrap up.

This year, I have attended:

The Southern Alberta Professional Development Consortium (SAPDC) Digital Citizenship Symposium   with guest speakers Dr. Alec Couros and Dr. Maurice Hollingsworth, October 2012

  • This was a wonderful day of introspection, discussion and debate about the idea and meaning of digital citizenship.  It gave me a great understanding of the central meaning of the digital world for my students as they continue to grow and engage in this world.  It also helped me to understand the responsibility that I have as a teacher to ensure that my students engage in the world with good character and conscience, whether digital or "real."
Staff Development for Educators Differentiated Instruction Conference, January 2013

Foothills Academy Learning Disabilities E-Course, January to March 2013

Math Connects Conference, University of Calgary, February 2013

I am looking forward to attending:

#EdcampYYC, April 2013

ConnectEd Canada, May 2013

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Math Connect Conference - University of Calgary

I never thought I'd willingly attend a mathematics conference and actually really enjoy it.

Today, I attended the Math Connect Conference at the University of Calgary, and listened to Brent Davis, Carol Dweck, Rafael Nunez, Daniel Ansari, John Mighton, Diana Chang (OISE) and Elisha Bonnis discuss mathematics education.  Thought-provoking, interesting, relevant, and timely, it was fantastic.

"How might we engage with one another to improve mathematics teaching and learning?" was the guiding question of the conference.

Carol Dweck discussed the fixed and growth mindset ideas of intelligence, which was very interesting.  I've already ordered her book!

She stated that there were three main guidelines in the different approaches to learning:

1.  Look smart at all costs (Fixed mindset) vs. Learn at all costs (Growth mindset)
2.  Learning should come naturally (Fixed mindset) vs. Work hard, effort is key (Growth mindset)
3.  Hide mistakes, conceal difficulties (Fixed) vs. Capitalize on mistakes, confront deficiencies (Growth)

She also discussed the need for a change in the way that we praise students.  Intelligence praise such as "wow, you must be really smart!" instantly made kids "non-learnersm" they wanted a task they could do perfectly, so as not to look dumb.  Meanwhile, process praise such as "wow, you must have tried really hard" encouraged students to continue to try and learn, and they actually enjoyed the difficult questions that they were given.

Carol Dweck stated that struggle should not be a bad word, that students should be taught to persist regardless of setbacks. Kids should identify their weaknesses and work to overcome them.  We should transform the meaning of difficulty, embrace learning and growth and understand the role of effort and change.

Elisha Bonnis also made several interesting points about math learning and teaching during her talk.  She emphasized the importance of practice; our brains need practice to make connections and new neural pathways.  Elisha also emphasized the need to explicitly teach math concepts in order to give kids the tools that they need to discover and create.  She stated that it was not that students had a range of ability in math, but rather that they had a range of math experiences.

During her talk, Elisha quoted John Mighton, who said that "there comes a point when you decide that either you are stupid or the subject is."  Most students choose to believe that they are stupid, not realizing that their mindset is inhibiting their ability to learn and grow.

I have many more notes that I'd love to share, but instead of making this a regurgitation of my notes, I'd like to suggest that you check out #MathConnect on Twitter for the general gist of the conference.  There were quite a few of us tweeting today and it was great to connect with my colleagues about this important issue in education.

Thank you to the organizers for a wonderful conference!  I can't wait to see what happens next in this conversation.

"I can't do math" - or can I?

I am one of those people who used to proclaim that I "wasn't any good at math," I've even engaged in conversations with my mother-in-law in which we expressed our hope that my son inherited the "math gene" from his grandfather and aunt.   I dreaded the classes in which I had to teach or learn math, and thought myself fortunate to have successfully taught grade 3 and 4 math during my practicums.

As Carol Dweck would say, I've had a change in my mindset.  I no longer believe that I cannot or will not learn math, and I no longer look at a failure in math as an indication that I am unable to understand or "do" math.  This is a new development for me.  During my elementary school years, I was part of a gifted pull-out program, which for some unknown reason, took part during math.  I didn't catch up on what I missed, for whatever reason, and by grade 5, I felt hopelessly behind and confused.  My mother asked my grade 5 teacher to help me at lunch time, which consisted of a stack of worksheets, a pencil and an eraser, and the directive to finish them (alone) while my teacher ate lunch in the staff room.  Needless to say, this was not a successful strategy for me.  If I could have completed those worksheets, I would have done so the first time.  I stopped going at lunch and my teacher gave up on me.

Fast forward (quite) a few years, a few more bad experiences, a few more coping mechanisms and the further development of my own belief in my sub-par mathematics skills.  As I began to teach math, I began to see students who were nervous, anxious, worried, and stressed whenever the subject of math came up.  I saw students complain, moan, and even cry during math class.  It broke my heart. I tried every strategy I knew, rephrased textbook questions constantly and spent a lot of time encouraging students to just do their best. I knew it wasn't enough, but I didn't know what else to do and was resigned to the idea that math was a necessary evil that had to be endured.

I was very nervous to teach math during my first year of teaching.  I was using the textbook and cobbling together my own supporting materials, as does nearly every other elementary math teacher I know.   It was fine, but not great.  Everyone was learning and making gains, but most of my students continued to complain loudly that they hated math, weren't good at it, were bored with it, etc.  Enter the JUMP math program.  You can check out the website for more details (and you should), but suffice to say that my kids began to enjoy math, made huge gains, and started working together in a way that I could not have predicted.  Some of my kids began to loudly proclaim that math was their favourite subject, that they could not have snack yet, they weren't done their practice questions, that this was easy AND fun!

As I learned more about the philosophy of JUMP Math and saw supporting evidence in my own classroom, my mindset changed dramatically.  I no longer think that math is a necessary evil, but an exciting opportunity to try out new concepts, practice, explore, and learn.  I am now a firm believer that any child can learn math and have fun, if they have the right supports, encouragement, and practice.