Last year in my math class I put whiteboards up around my room and it changed the learning in so many impactful ways. When I moved into an assistant principal position this year, I did't want to give my the whiteboards up. I wanted to figure out a way they could help me help students.
Way #1 - Whiteboards to calm a student down
The other day I got called to the playground to pick up a misbehaving first grader from afternoon recess. By the time I got out there he was in complete meltdown mode. As we walked to my office, he continued to cry uncontrollably and I knew that there would be no discussion of the problem while he was in this place.
When we got to my office, I grabbed the basket of whiteboard markers and invited the student to draw a picture or scribble or do something on the whiteboard to help him calm down. He grabbed a black pen, looked at me and said, "let's play a game." I asked, "what game?" He quickly replied, "guess my drawing." I replied, "start drawing!"
He began drawing and as he drew, I would state the obvious: "it's a rectangle." Each time I stated the obvious, he would get a huge grin on his face and keep drawing. His first picture was on the left - a spider web and the second was a robot.
The process of drawing allowed me to observe and watch this first grade boy's personality come out. He went from hysterical to smiling, creating, problem-solving and calming himself down. Our game of "guess my picture" provided the student with the opportunity to get himself into a place where we could discuss his behavior. The whiteboards allowed for relationship and trust building which carried over to our conversation about appropriate behavior on the playground and in the classroom. They are becoming my go to empathy, social/emotional and conflict resolution tool for helping students.
I have changed jobs once again. I am now split between two jobs: assistant principal and ed tech coordinator. At our first administrator professional learning community meeting (PLC) we were given a scenario that forced us to DIG DEEP. This scenario had to do with the Washington Monument. Interestingly I had visited the Washington Monument a year ago when I attended #WDC17 (Google for Education Innovator). The picture above shows me with other Google Innovators as we toured the monuments at night. The bright white behind us is the lit up Washington Monument.
Now for an interesting story connecting empathy and the Washington Monument.
In our PLC we were asked to go deeper into data but first we were given an analogy:
The last time the Washington Monument was being restored the folks in charge noticed that the mortar between the bricks was failing. The cause was the cleaner they use to clean and keep the monument white. So the first solution was to find a gentler cleaner, but instead someone else decided to look deeper. That person asked the question: what is causing the dirt on the monument? After exploring it was found that bats were pooping all over the monument. So the next question that was asked was why are the bats around? They found out that there are spiders that the bats love to each all over the monument. The next question was why are the spiders there? Apparently there are gnats all over the building which the spiders love to eat. With that discovery the people in charge realized that the core problem was that the type of lights they use to light the monument at night was attracting the gnats. So instead of searching for a new cleaning substance, they changed the lighting which addressed the chain of problems.
At our Innovator Academy Jennie Magiera shared a story of empathy and slaying dragons. It is a story that helped our cohort think about digging deeper and finding empathy for those educators who might be resistant to change. It's as simple as asking questions and taking time to gain understanding of the person and/or the situation.
I have been diving into the Design Thinking process and attended Design Camp in Monterey CA last February. The focus that day was on the empathy portion of the process which I had not given much deep thought about. To me the empathy piece was just one of the parts of the design thinking process. I believed it was an important part, however, after the Innovator Academy and the design camp something clicked and I now understood that it was the key piece in the process.
As a new administrator my first priority is to build relationships with the admin team, the teachers and staff, students, parents and community of the school. To do that I must ask questions and dig deeper to understand the situation. It is my goal to better understand and build empathy for the person/people and/or the situation.
My goals for this year to build empathy to help shift culture:
Seek to understand instead of "fix" the situation
Listen to hear and understand, not to respond
I'm looking forward to focusing on empathy with intent this year.
Every summer we go to Lake Almanor, three moms and four boys. It is the only time these boys see each other during the year. Today as I was standing in the lake I watched the boys figure out how to all stand on the tube/float. I observed the many failed attempts where all would end up in the water only to get back on and try again.
My educator eyes are always fascinated by the process folks use to solve a problem or problems. These boys were fighting the laws of physics by actively challenging them. While observing I noticed that the boys never stopped to discuss and plan, they just started climbing back on and figuring out what had to be done so that in the end they would all be standing. I heard so much discussion and problem solving as they were in the process of standing. They were focused, thinking critically and never was there a moment or thought of giving up until they had succeeded. Each failed attempt taught them how not to do it and allowed them to try something new.
There were too many failed attempts to count with only one eventual success and then it was on to the next challenge of the day... Lunch!
They boys were having a wonderful time and each time they failed they laughed and were rewarded by a soaking. Think how different this would have gone down if the moms had told them to do this without getting wet (or failing). One little thing can change the entire scenario and if we had done that the boys would have not even tried. Their willingness to attempt and be creative in their solution would be sacrificed. No action rather than failure.
I often have Yoda's quote posted in my classroom "There is no try, do or do not." I think that if students set their goals to "doing" then they can still have many "trials and failures" which is a part of the "doing" process. But if we add parameters that lead to choosing not to "do" we are robbing our students of the very process we want to encourage.
How do we prove to students that we truly want them to learn from failed attempts in our content area courses? Now this gets me thinking about grading and a whole other can of worms...
This summer I am the design thinking enrichment teacher for our Summer Bridge program. Because literacy is a focus, I decided to base my maker/design thinking projects on picture books. I work with each grade level for one hour a week and the fifth through eighth grade students see me twice a week. Here is a list of the books I chose and the activities that go with them. I'll also include my slide deck from my EdTechTeam K2CanToo conference presentation. I bought materials for all activities at Dollar Tree #$TreeMakers. If you click on the image of the book it will take you to an Amazon link.
The Dot: CLICK HERE for Amazon Link
For this activity I read the dot to the students and have them create their dot. They can draw, use maker materials, or create an online dot using Google Draw or other tools. The design thinking part of the activity introduces empathy to the students. So in creating their dots, they have to introduce themselves to the "audience" and help the audience empathize with them as a person and a learner.
Empathy for Vashti and her fear of drawing
A Frog Thing: CLICK HERE for Amazon Link
I love this book for so many reasons but one of the main ones is that it was one of my son's favorite books for me to read aloud to him. The story is about Frank who is a frog that wants to fly. His parents tell him he can do anything and when he tells them he wants to fly, they backtrack and tell him they meant he could do any "frog thing". This book is a great segue into discussing with students that as humans we have invented things that enable us to break out of only being able to do "human things"
For this maker challenge the students have to create a way for Frank to fly. I bought plastic frogs a dollar tree for the students to use to design a flying apparatus that will fly Frank across the room. The students have to research flight and come up with a way for Frank to fly.
Empathy for Frank and his desire to fly.
If I Built a Car: CLICK HERE for Amazon Link After reading this book to the kiddos, they are tasked with building a balloon car using paper plates, straws, skewers, cups, and tape. I allow the students to use Chromebooks to look up and figure out how to build a balloon car. Step two is to have them add motors to their cars.
The Three Little Pigs an Architecture Tale:
CLICK HERE for Amazon Link
For this design challenge the students have to build a house with the provided materials that is wind proof (hair dryer test) and earthquake proof (shake the desk test). The students may use a variety of materials such as straws, pipe cleaners, tape, craft sticks, paper plates, whatever stuff I grab at Dollar Tree.
Empathy for the three pigs and their need to be safe from the big bad wolf.
Dogzilla: CLICK HERE for Amazon Link
For this design challenge, the students need to build a catapult that will shoot food outside of Mouseopolis and save the giant barbecue from Dogzilla who wants to eat everything. For this challenge the students can use spoons, rubber bands, craft sticks, and any other maker materials I have around.
Empathy for the mice in Mouseopolis who are fearful of Dogzilla.
Now and Ben: CLICK HERE for Amazon Link
For this challenge the students create squishy circuits using play dough, batteries, wires, electrical tape, and LED lights. I get materials from amazon for this challenge. The students also explore electricity by making name tags that light up with LED lights and 3 volt batteries. Finally, the students use vibration motors from dollar tree electric toothbrushes and make scribble bots. They make the bot out of pieces of pool noodles and decorate them with feathers, stickers, pipe cleaners all from Dollar Tree.
I love that I use these books and challenges for students grades K - 8. Each grade level tackles the challenge differently and it is amazing to watch them make and create and figure it out.
I am in the process of getting back to standards based learning and grading in my math classes.
Back in November of 2012 I wrote this post on Grading Irony which is a great reminder of the power of a zero in the grade book. It also reminded me that an overall test score provides little information to me and my students on their actual understanding of mathematics.
My transition back into the classroom has had it's ups and downs. The one thing I know for certain is that I am extremely happy to be back with students. Back in November, I wrote about a few constraints I'm dealing with Click Here so my shifts right now are small.
In the article "Teaching in BETA" by Jennifer Gonzales, I love the explanation by Joel Lee "the beta phase begins when a product propels from 'functional but hideous' to 'polished and ready to go.' Bugs are hunted down and fixed, features are improved or revamped for maximum usability, the interface and graphics receive an overhaul, and performance issues are optimized."
I have been in BETA all year as I work to innovate my math teaching one baby step at a time. This is my first, ugly, baby step back into standards based learning. This however, is more about standards based grading. As I said baby steps so I at least begin the process.
The assessment I gave on circles was my "functional but hideous" first attempt to journey back to standards based grading in my math classes. It was a first step and overall it was successful in helping students experience assessment in a different way. Here is what I did and what I created:
The Functional Part:
Common Core Math Standards
Our district common assessment is the Topic 11 Test in Pearson Digits
Illustrative Mathematics 7th Grade - Unit 3 Circles - Click Here
Go through the problems and create tiers:
"C" problems: Click Here all students must do EVERY Problem
"B" problems: Click Here if you want to get a B you need to do 3 of the 5 problems
"A" problems: Click Here if you want to get an A you need to do 1 of the 3 problems
What happened and what I noticed:
Some of my students who had not passed a test all year EASILY earned a C by successfully completing the "C" test
Students started taking risks because they knew they had the "C" and tried the "B" and "A" problems knowing they would not be punished if they missed them.
Students did more/extra problems because they wanted to make sure they got the right number correct.
The Hideous Part:
If it were truly standards based, the tests would not be titled according to the grades "C", "B", and "A". Since it is so late in the year, this is how I labeled them. This will change to something that does not connect to a grade but a rubric score or a description. It will involve student input and a lengthy discussion about what is a grade?
Although these assessments will provide the students with more specific feedback on the standards they mastered and the ones they did not, this is not the level of specific feedback I am working towards. I want to get back to standards check off sheets where the students take the feedback and track their understanding of each standard.
As I continue this process through the end of the year, I will provide more specific feedback to students and experiment so that I can start the next school year with an assessment that will truly guide student learning and proof of understanding.
This is something that will probably stay ugly and hideous for a while as the students and I work together to make learning and assessment about proof of understanding and not about a meaningless grade.
This process will become one of my math #eduprotocols that will drive learning and instruction in my math classroom. I will continue to share my process and shift here on my blog.
Vince began the year as one of my most perplexing students. He was quiet, he struggled with math, he had strained relationships with the other students. He dreaded working in groups because he did not fit in with anyone. Everyday I had to dig deep into my toolkit to find ways to make a connection with Vince. He is a student that we all have in our classes. I practiced patience with Vince and worked hard to build trust so that he would take chances in his learning of math.
Everything changed for Vince when the whiteboard walls went up. It was not immediate. He was one of the tough ones, a hold out. He would come in the room and sit at a desk while the other students got to work doing math on the whiteboards. I would hand him a copy of the whiteboard problems and he would pretend to work on them at his desk. I understood the risk it takes to put yourself and your math work on the whiteboards. I would gently encourage and ask questions to try to guide him and get him up to a board.
During our winter break, I added 3 whiteboards to the counter close to my desk and Vince took over the middle whiteboard as his own. We also started doing Visual Patterns problems which require problem solving and critical thinking and provides opportunities for students to show multiple representations. For the first time I got to see Vince's mathematical thinking and problem solving abilities:
And when I asked Vince to explain, he was very articulate. He is a second language learner and working on the whiteboards has increased his confidence, his oral language use, and has given me a glimpse inside his mathematical brain. I have learned that he has strong math understanding and skills. Unfortunately our online textbook assignments and tests have not shown me an accurate picture of Vince as a math student.
The whiteboards have allowed me to provide individualized direct instruction and to collect useful data on student understanding, struggles, and misconceptions. My instructions varies throughout a lesson based on what I see on the whiteboards. I do mini-lessons for a group or groups who are stuck, whole class instruction, and/or individualized instruction. We (everyone in the room) write all over the whiteboards so that students have samples to refer to and we are learning with/from each other.
The whiteboards have had a positive effect on all of my students but the impact is profound for my students like Vince who have been able to show how they make sense of mathematics and become a part of our learning community instead of hiding and pretending.
The whiteboards are up, now what? The first place I started was with our warm ups.
Procedure: Play music and give the students the following instructions:
Set your things down in your seats
Get a whiteboard pen and go to a whiteboard
Complete the Warm Up.
Because my whiteboards are panel boards and are NOT magnetic, I bought little plastic clips from Dollar Tree to hold warm up problems on each whiteboard. The students know not to write on the warm up sheets and they stay up for all of my classes.
Management Note: At first I tried posting the warm up on our TV monitor but it was difficult for the students to see and they would leave their whiteboard to go read and then they would socialize and I ended up having students "gathering around the monitor". The second way was to push the questions out digitally on the Chromebooks - saving paper right?? Again this ended up taking too much time because the students would lollygag and check their grades etc... I want them up and doing math as soon as they get into the classroom!
Here is how having students begin math class on whiteboards has shifted the learning and teaching in my classes.
They want different colored whiteboard pens so that each person's contribution can be seen
They are up and moving and not able to hide behind their Chromebooks or pretend to be writing work on a piece of paper or in a notebook.
They are willing to take risks, try to work things out, and learn from their mistakes
They have meaningful math conversations and are thinking critically and discussing
They are showing multiple representations - this is the way I did it... that is the way she/he did it
We see everyone's personality dancing on our walls
During the warm up I am able to get around to each group and have meaningful math conversations with my students. I ONLY ask questions to keep them moving, get them unstuck, or to extend their thinking if they are close to finishing up.
If the students are struggling, I do not help them, as stated above - I only ask questions!
I let any/all answers stay up whether they are right or wrong so we can discuss as a class and the students learn from each other which takes the stigma out of making and learning from their mistakes.
I take notes on misconceptions and direct my instruction accordingly. If all of the groups are struggling on the same thing then I go over it during whole class instruction. Otherwise, I give each group personalized support in the moment.
I am flexible with the needs of my students:
Some of my students were very fearful of putting "their math" on the board for everyone to see. For those students, I provided a copy of the warm up and they could complete it at their seats. This was only about 1 - 4 students each period. Once they got over their fear and observed how it worked, they were up and at the whiteboards with the others. The students still have to do the work, but I'm flexible with their needs because so much goes on with middle schoolers from period to period.
Gallery Walks - now that the students are getting more comfortable with each other, I'd like them to start looking at each other's work and place stars and/or question marks to whole class discussions: I like how you... Can you explain how you...
We've started writing explanations of mathematical thinking but now I want to have the students write group explanations on the whiteboards which will hopefully lead to better individual explanations.
Flipgrid, Padlet, Google Suite etc... - Digital sharing of work and thinking!