A Collection of Steps

Day 42 (of 187) – November 1, 2018

Yes… it’s true. SNOW on November 1st… in Prince George. This is about the amount of snow that we get on the Sunshine Coast, BC. I know that this is just the beginning.

This is a nice segway to my daily blog of learning. TEACHING IS LEARNING. I had an awesome teaching moment today. Students facilitated their learning activity today based on a lesson play they created within the time constraint of half-an-hour. They put their planning into action and I appreciated that my students can realize or “experiment” what their lesson plan could look like. The best part of that experience was asking these students to reflect on what they had achieved and determine if they were successful with their lesson plan or not. They took the time during class and returned back to me after class and said that they did but it could have been better if they added “why” to their questioning to deepen learning. Wow!!! I am always learning as my students learn.

I know that I am “the teacher” or “the instructor” but really what that means to me is… I AM A LEARNER and I am imparting some of what I have learned but I continue to learn. It also reminds me of the messiness of teaching and learning and if we are to MOVE TOGETHER during this learning process, sometimes the course syllabus has to change, adapt, or modify. As a result, it looks REALLY MESSY, which can be scary because it may look like that I’m not planned in a detailed way. Sometimes I hesitate to create a course syllabus that is too detailed because you don’t know who will be in our class and how they will respond to the contents of your course syllabus. It’s a true dilemma. Stick to the syllabus or adapt to student learning??? The struggle is real but I choose the latter.

Choosing student learning versus sticking to the course syllabus is a risk I’m willing to take but also a skill that I am learning how to hone. What I mean by that is, I hope to develop syllabi that won’t require me to make too many adaptations. I am also learning that STRUCTURE is really important to student learning. This is more than the time that the course is being offered and how tables are set in the room, but students do appreciate the comforts of structure to know what they have to do and need to learn to succeed. I understand that too. I hope that making these adaptations does enhance their learning experience in my course, but only time will tell. Taking it one step at a time. 

Love the Formative

Day 41 (of 187) – October 31, 2018

Happy Halloween… Yes, I’m an UNBC Timberwolves FAN!!! Thank you for noticing. That said, I am listening to the fireworks in my neighbourhood of College Heights in Prince George where I am “laying low” on this Halloween night. It the first night in 15 years that I’m not at home in Sechelt on the Sunshine Coast with my daughter where she would like to dress up, hang out with friends, and give out candy. I’m here… miles away living in an apartment building. NO ONE is coming by my place to “trick or treat” and that’s OK.

It does not take much to make my day. I did have candy to give out to my class today. The student presenters brought candy too. We had gummies, licorice, and chocolate. A winning combination… especially when my students just finished a midterm exam in a previous class and I’m recovering from my fall from yesterday. Why not soothe the soul with a bit of candy? To top it off, today’s reading summary was about FORMATIVE ASSESSMENT and Assessment for Learning… one of my favourite topics to discuss and do in education but also one of the key underpinnings of BC’s New Curriculum.

Lots of thoughts go through my mind as my students present a summary of the article and facilitate a learning activity based on that article. The article focused much about policies and systems, and how the framework of formative assessment should be found throughout the system to support and enhance student learning. It was a big article, meaning that it wasn’t focussed on the details of how to implement specific formative assessment strategies, but it revealed many of the big ideas of formative assessment and its value to student learning and quality of teaching. At the end of the presentation… “I tried” to clarify some ideas about assessment and what to expect in some of my course assignments, but I think I made it worse. I did not seize the formative opportunities.

One of the underpinnings of my course is EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING. I was so compelled to “tell the answer” and I did. I think what I said only made sense to those who had already completed the assignment. I did not honour experiential learning cycle and allowing students to struggle. Well, I did with those who had already completed the assignment but there are still those who still need to complete the assignment. Nonetheless, all was said and done and we had only 10 minutes to get into our collaborative learning groups to design an interdisciplinary unit plan and lesson plan.

After a couple of meetings and carbo-loading with a Tim Horton’s bagel (and some yummy cake), I returned to my office to pack up. I sat there for some moments to “catch my breath” and appreciate my surroundings. I needed to regroup. What was great was… one of my students popped his head in my door and cheered. I think that he was glad I was still here. It was getting late. There were two students… and yes, they were asking for some help. FORMATIVE ASSESSMENT and FORMATIVE FEEDBACK. I could not have asked for anything more. With some discussion, I hopped out of my seat to talk about the learning intentions and the assignment. YEEEESSSS!!! Formative in REAL-TIME. Students engaged in the struggle… and the AH-HA… for ME and my students. Love the formative.

That Kinda Day

Day 40 of (187) – October 30, 2018

Not a morning person… but managed to drag myself out of bed… get ready… and make it to my computer by 9am for a conference call with members of the CIRCE Academic Council. If anything, it’s a great way to get inspired by others who are so passionate about imagination education in their research and fields. I am proud and honoured to be part of this group and hope to contribute in a meaningful way to move CIRCE forward.

With CIRCE on my mind, I was heading to my car to go to work. With garbage to discard in one hand, my cell phone in the other, and my backpack on with my computer… off I went. Instead of taking my “normal” route to my car, I opted to take a different route. I was so caught up about thinking about the meeting and my day ahead… I TOOK A FALL. Save the phone. Save my computer. Save my head. Long story made short, all three were saved. As a natural consequence, something else had to give… like my hand and ankle.

I lied there on the ground for a bit. Admittedly, I wanted to get up right away but couldn’t. Literally, I’ve fallen and I could not get up. I stared at the sky for a few minutes, took a deep breath, and mustered the strength to get up and go to work. YIKES. This was a serious fall… well, more serious than I thought. Good thing you have people at work who can provide some pills, ice, and a little help to alleviate the pain. I’m not one to complain, but I was in a lot of pain. I barely made it back to my car after work. I was a slow walk, limp, and drag. I was so thankful to get back into my car to go back home.

It wasn’t my best day… for work, for play, or for rest… but in the end, the message is, GET UP, march on, and don’t do that again. I tripped over a HUGE metal nut & bolt that was randomly situated on the ground. Why I walked on that path? Who knows? What I do know for sure is… the hot bath tonight is going to feel really, really, really good.

Data Collection

Day 39 (of 187) – October 29, 2018

Wow… one of the things I am trying to remind myself is… GET YOUR RESEARCH ON. No pressure… but I’d like to get into the groove of research without thinking like it’s a dissertation. I wonder if the experience is the same. I’m over thinking. I’m hoping it’s a bit different. Although I have 2 articles on the go in collaboration with a colleague, I have to start taking the lead on my research and writing. But as you can see with this pic… as part of MY DATA COLLECTION, I’m busy. I took very few pictures today. In fact, I took no photos until I got home late tonight and started FaceTiming with my little family. Yup, I’ve got screenshots and my dog is blatantly ignoring me. Classic. Thank goodness for technology so that I can stay connected with my family, but the lack of photo taking showed me that I was on-the-go today. And, that’s OK. I’m enjoying what I am doing  but I’ve other work to do that NEEDS TO GET DONE. No pressure, again. Anyway, cheers to data collection. A great indicator to me how my day is going. NO FACEBOOK POSTS TODAY. LOL. 🙂


Shared Understanding

Day 38 (of 187) – October 26, 2018

Teaching is a funny profession. We deal with so many people yet it’s one of the most isolating professions… meaning, we rarely connect with other educators to sense-make together to establish a shared understanding. Most times it’s because we HAVE NO TIME. Sometimes other reasons could be “the door is closed”… we have professional autonomy… and basically, we easily adopt the mindset of “I’m on my own”… so no need to share, collaborate, or be a critical friend. This is concerning particularly when we want our students to be critical and creative thinkers, be good communicators, and find personal relevance in their learning. BIG ASKS but do we as educators ask ourselves to do that.

Educators are often ALONE in their classrooms, physically separate from other colleagues. We are surrounded by students and students have the luxury of observing different educators over time… but educators do not. In this case, I say educators… but it’s all those who are also connected to the educator like administration or support staff. We need to have a SHARED UNDERSTANDING to collectively operate but also offer a cohesive and comprehensive learning experience for our students. This is where I am beginning to value meetings more and more. I did a lot of meetings as a school trustee and some as a mathematics educator. Meetings are important to stay connected and share our stories.

The meetings can be formal or informal. The meetings could last 20 minutes or 2 hours. These meetings are opportunities for sense-making… collaborating… and co-creating. We need to meet more often to the point where meetings are not an event, but they become another segment of an ongoing conversation with each other. When we understand who we are more, what our collective purpose is, and how we can achieve our share goals together… that’s when we have a winning team but also students will see our collective efficacy in ourselves as educators but also our shared belief in them as learning to achieve and succeed. We we can be vulnerable with each other with a deep level of trust and respect, that’s when we are learning and great things happen. Hello next meeting…

Meeting Expectations

Day 37 (of 187) – October 25, 2018

One of my curiosities in education is assessment and evaluation. One of the articles we considered this week was Students in my class were considering Alfie Kohn’s (2011) “A Case Against Grades.” In this group of three, one talked about Joe Bower’s work in Alberta with Grade 8’s. The second student summarized the article via PowerPoint and led the class through a discussion. The third student did a demonstration.

In this demonstration, she asked for four volunteers. Each of the volunteers left the classroom. One came into the class one at a time. The first two students were given “letter grade” feedback and the latter two students were given “descriptive” feedback. The objective? Each student volunteer was blindfolded and asked to throw a whiffle ball into a recycling box. They threw about 6-8 whiffle balls each. The first volunteer did a C-/C performance. The ball never made it into the box. The second volunteer did a B/A/A/A performance. Once he got the ball into the box, he was consistent and continued to throw the ball into the box successfully. The third volunteer got descriptive feedback to get the ball into the box to the point of yay/yay/yay. The fourth volunteer got the ball into the box over time with descriptive feedback as well. It was a brilliant “experiment” on demonstrating the difference between letter grades and descriptive feedback on learning.

My TAKE AWAY from this assessment/feedback experiment was the appropriateness of FORMATIVE FEEDBACK. One of the “complaints” from my previous course at SFU was that my students wanted feedback on their demonstration of learning AFTER the demonstration even though I was giving them ongoing feedback, if needed, during the learning activity. If they met expectations, they did not need formative feedback. They met expectations. I could understand if they wanted DESCRIPTIVE FEEDBACK as a form of summative, but it would never be intended for improvement because they would never do that activity again. It could be an opportunity for reflection, so it would be formative if they did a self-assessment versus me providing formative feedback afterwards.

In this experiment, I felt like my curiosity of my assessment method was clarified and verified. The second volunteer got the whiffle ball into the recycling box soon after the second throw. B-A-A-A-A. That was it. The third volunteer had similar results. “A little the the left. A little more power. Yay. Yay. Yay. Yay.” What did I observe? That in both cases, when the student MET EXPECTATIONS, the formative feedback ceased and what the students got in return was a summative assessment of A-A-A or yay, yay, yay…. verifying to the learner that they achieved what they were expected to do. The second volunteer even said during the post-experiment discussion that he could hear that the first ball hit the box. The sound of the ball hitting the box gave him the formative feedback he needed to MEET EXPECTATIONS (i.e. throw the whiffle ball into the recycling box). Furthermore, it happened during the learning process… not after. This was very telling to me. YAY!!!

My Perceived Brain

Day 36 (of 187) – October 24, 2018

What did I learn today? We are all different. Of course “I know” that we are all different, but today’s guest speakers on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) during my EDUC 360 class shed some light on some of these differences and WHY. The guest speakers were arranged by a colleague of mine for another course she teaches that my cohort is taking. The guest speakers are teacher consultants in the local school district but also presenters for @POPFASD (Provincial Outreach Program on FASD). They provided the teacher candidates (and myself) with lots of information on what FASD, why it happens, and how we as educators can help SUPPORT these students in our classrooms. I do like the mindset of what works for FASD students works for all students. They offered data, research, and strategies to support students with FASD and how we as educators need to be informed of what it is and to question our assumptions about FASD and students in general. It is so true that when you are dealing with 30 students at a time, 4 blocks per day… it can be daunting and somewhat confusing what we observe from our students and how we deal with these behaviours. I would say, YOU DON’T KNOW PEOPLE’S STORIES. You just don’t. Luckily, as teachers practicing at schools, we have resource teachers to support us in supporting the student in our classroom but also a “team” of professionals to support the student as well. Another great message… we are not alone in our work in supporting students. We have research-based recommendations on how to support FASD students but many of these strategies will support all students. That’s key particularly when we are not the professional who identifies FASD students, we support students. Because 70-75% of FASD students are not “physically” recognizable, we could easily mistake behaviour derived from FASD as “bad behaviour” and respond with disciplinary actions versus implementing a strategy that supports student learning. Although this workshop was intended for my secondary first year teacher candidates, I walked away with valuable information on the what, why, and how to support students with FASD.

PS. This is a picture of my perceived brain. The whole class participated in this activity… and yes, they were all different. I saw it as different moods. Another student saw it as a picture of them… MY STUDENTS. Admittedly, I am student driven. Very appropriate.

A Learning Community

Day 35 (187) – October 23, 2018

My visit to the Sunshine Coast was very short. One day, really. I took the moments of hugging my dog, buying her treats, and snuggling with my kid at night. After coming home late last night from men’s hockey, my husband drives me out to the ferry terminal at 5:30am to catch the first ferry out of Langdale to Horsehoe Bay. It’s not an easy feat and I don’t miss these days. I felt lucky to have bumped into a couple of more friends on the ferry. This was so fun. These two are not educators but lifelong friends. One who I know from having babies at the same time and the other is a high school classmate of mine. I loved our conversations on the ferry and on the bus. One of them is coming to Prince George next week. Can’t wait to connect once again. I’m heading back to Prince George. I’ve got a meeting and a night class to teach. I was so tired when I reached the airport that I feel asleep on the computer table at YVR… drool and all. No shame.

I arrived back to Prince George safe and sound. No delays and I arrived to campus on time. The meeting went well… then we followed up that meeting with another meeting. I needed that meeting to figure out how my year will end. It was good and I’m very optimistic for the winter session. I can’t wait. That said, I have the fall session to move forward with but also tonight’s class. The first half of our class we spent at the library learning from the librarian about research and the second half in our class reviewing a chapter from the textbook. We fell short of time and postponed one of our chapters for next week. It’s such an easy going class. I am compelled to personalize their learning in the context of educational research and design. It’s super fun to take a kind of pace that is guided but also self-directed. This group of learners are diverse and I enjoy connecting with them about their learning and learning experiences. We are moving forward with the concept of research and it’s messiness. I hope they will enjoy research as much as I do. It’s not easy. We are making progress. I am very thankful for our learning community.

Informal Learning

Day 34 (of 187) – October 22, 2018

After an awesome few days in Whistler… I had a bit of time to return to the Sunshine Coast… to visit my dog, my kid, and my house. Again, thank goodness for my husband who drove me back to Vancouver from Whistler to catch the ferry in Horseshoe Bay. En route, we went to the Britannia Copper Mine Museum. That was fun. My husband panned a flake of gold and we took the tour. Loved the experiential learning aspect of this tour. I could not imagine being a miner in those days. Well, I was imagining and really, really didn’t want to be a miner in those days. Anyway, it was another fun learning experience to conclude my professional learning experience at the Northwest Math Conference.

I was so inspired this weekend, how could it get any better? Of course it got better. With my quick one-day visit on the Sunshine Coast, I had 3 coffee dates while my kid was in school. The first one we went for a walk on Davis Bay and had coffee (and blueberry pie) at Wheatberries. The second one was in Gibsons and we went to the Beachcombers for a delicious cappuccino. The third coffee was back in Sechelt at The Bakery where I had a medium skim milk latter and my favourite veggie pizza. I’m a bit of a regular at this place when I’m home. A hat trick of coffee made for a very busy day… but also an opportunity for INFORMAL LEARNING. All three of my friends are educators but have very different roles and responsibilities. What I love about these people is, they are MY CRITICAL FRIENDS. They are people I can “think out-loud” with… who will tell me the straight goods and vice-versa… and who inspire me with their strong will and conviction.

I feel very lucky to have these people in my life. In addition to these three, I have more people in my life who are my critical friends. They are the ones who will listen, who will advise, and who will lift me up. I can’t ask for any more. I feel lucky to have more than one critical friend in my life. They are people who I trust and respect. I don’t have to spend anytime to impress them… thank goodness. To me, it’s friendship at its finest.

Bridging the Gap

Day 33 (of 187) – October 19, 2018

Thank goodness for my husband and daughter… planning the weekend so nicely. My daughter went to Kamloops to play rugby and my husband took time off work to pick me up from the airport to drive me to Whistler to attend the Northwest Math Conference. We had a good time together. He said it was like “a date.” That’s nice. I guess it would feel that way if I’m up in Prince George working at the university and he is still on the Sunshine Coast as full-time parent and housekeeper. It’s all good. I was so glad to get back to my roots… my people… my tribe. MATH EDUCATORS. I feel a huge connection to these people and I love being a part of the BC Association of Math Teachers. Furthermore, I love to learn. What a great way to fill my cup. PROFESSIONAL LEARNING.

Above is a photo of me and Mahtab, a professor from Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops. WE met long ago at another Northwest Math Conference and back then, we were both secondary mathematics teachers. It was so great to connect with her and so many other math educators in BC and the United States. I love meeting new people and chatting with them about math and math education. I felt so fortunate to make the second half of the opening keynote. See photo below. The whole conference, for me, was about mathematical thinking and making it visible. I loved the suggestions for assessment but also concepts throughout the conference that focussed on what do you notice, what do you wonder about, and what if? Mathematical thinking is about what’s possible.

My 45-minute presentation at the Westin (a neighbouring hotel) was about my EDUC 454 course at SFU-Burnaby in 2017. My message: TAKE MATH OUTSIDE. Be curious. PLAY. There were about 200 people at my session. I was thinking there was going to be 20, at most. Anyway, I think the session went well and I feel honoured to be a speaker at this conference. Other speakers I went to had similar messages. My mind was shifting… and I liked it. I even got to see Dan Finkel… TWICE. I introduced myself to him before his sessions at the BCAMT table. We had just watched his TEDx in one of my classes a couple of weeks ago about exceptional mathematical teaching. His workshops were outstanding. HOW MANY? WHAT IF? Was what I got from his first workshop. And, CONJECTURES AND COUNTEREXAMPLES… I got from his second workshop. He is very compelling. The IGNITE sessions were awesome, I met lots of people, and the closing keynote was exceptional. Too much to say about in so little space… still digesting and appreciating.