In a previous blog post I noted how quickly our release days associated with this project seem to fly by, and today is yet another example of that phenomenon. For those newly involved in at TLLP or who are wondering what it might be all about, here’s a synopsis of how my colleague and I are spending our day today:
As my colleague and I learn to teach effectively using a problem-based, constructivist approach in math, we want to be cognizant of the many powerful strategies that exist to complement such instructional methodology. The explicit teaching and use of manipulatives, for example, and the incorporation of graphic organizers into ones’ teaching are two well-documented strategies for effective teaching and learning.
Today was one of those rare days when everything just seemed to click, and every student seemed really engaged with the task, and was easily able to show understanding (or lack thereof) as I wandered around the room with my trusty clipboard…
The task involved students sorting 2D attribute blocks using two or more different attributes. Using the IWB, we reviewed the concepts of shape, size, colour and thickness. Students were able to come up and manipulate the “infinite cloners” I had created on the board, and move them into a VENN diagram slide I had prepared in advance. (During this whole-class time, one boy called exclaimed, “OH! I get it now!” It was very exciting for both of us!)
After the introductory review and mini-lesson, students went off to work with either a whiteboard or a prepared VENN, and sorted the blocks into two or three circles.
The fact that I had a special ed. teacher in the room to support some of the needier learners allowed me to gather some formative assessment data.
As I circulated throughout the room with my clipboard and a class list, I did as I have been told in the GEIM and other resources we’ve been reading, and asked questions to find out more when I wasn’t sure how deep a student’s understanding was. For example, I asked one boy who had made two circles, “red” and “square”, if there was anything on his mat that could go in the middle, where the circles intersected. It took him a while, but he eventually realised that the red square he had in his “red” circle could go in the middle. Another student had piled blue shapes in one circle, red shapes in another, and yellow in the middle. She clearly did not have the concept of the overlapping attributes. I asked her to tell me about her sorting rule, and was soon able to glean a deeper understanding of her misconception and guide her to see where she had gone wrong. She happily resorted her blocks, choosing two attributes (size and colour this time). Several students challenged themselves to fill in a 3-circle VENN; many of them did it correctly the first time, or after only minimal guidance from me.
Using the IWB to demonstrate the concept at first, and have students model it was definitely a motivating factor for the class, and the use of manipulatives and graphic organizers consolidated their understanding of the concept of attributes and sorting. Although this lesson was not presented as a “problem” in the true sense, it nevertheless constituted a valuable mathematical experience for all.
Finally got my act together and did a semi-proper, 3-part, problem-based learning lesson today in math!
We began with a hundreds chart warm up (the students are becoming increasingly proficient at noticing and describing patterns, using mathematical language), then got them busy with the whiteboards solving the problem. They could choose to work alone, or with a partner, and could use any strategies they wanted to solve the problem. (I reminded them of the 4-part problem solving model we had looked at the other day, and also referred them back to the chart we had begun to make listing various strategies.)
It was reaffirming to see how students used a variety of methods to arrive at the same solution (i.e. that each row of tiles in the pattern was shrinking by 2)… some used a table and noticed the pattern, others recreated the pattern with colour tiles, and continued it until they got the answer they needed (one boy did this using the “infinite cloners” I had created on the smart board), still others drew a picture to illustrate the problem, and that seemed to help them figure out the subsequent rows and numbers of tiles.
Interestingly, one student drew a very detailed photo of a bicycle from Friday’s problem, apparently completely missing the point I had made earlier about details being great for Art or Science, but not so necessary in a sketch for math!
(bicycle problem solutions from Sept 21)
At the end of the lesson, a number of students came up and shared their responses using the document camera; I took a photo of their solutions and posted them on the smart board, annotating the solution with a coloured Smart pen as the student(s) spoke.
After each solution shared, I made it small and moved it off to the side, so that we could still refer back to it as the next student shared his/her solution on the board.
Although I am pleased with the capabilities of the Board for conducting such a lesson, I have ongoing concerns about the students who don’t seem to “get it”. Some of the children seem so far behind in math – even with 1:1 guidance from our in-school support person, they were struggling to understand the problem, let alone consider how it might be solved… and the debrief part of the lesson, where the “math teaching” comes to the forefront, these same students either struggled to pay attention to the student presenting a solution and barely focused on my “teaching” through the solution, or they simply checked out altogether, and simply played with their colour tiles or drew on their whiteboards while their peers engaged in academic dialogue.
How to draw these learners into the conversation – while still maintaining a pace and interest level appropriate to the learners ready for the next challenge – will be my ongoing experiment this year!
Today marked our first TLLP day of the new school year. Trinder and I decided to work independently; we wanted to work together on making smart notebook slides out of our collection of math problems from last spring, however, we both felt that we needed to spend some time pouring over the stack of math resources that had been accumulating on each of our desks, thinking about said resources, and updating our blogs before we could collaborate with any degree of effectiveness!
After completing a draft staff survey which we hope to administer to our school-based colleagues sometime before the end of the month, I set out to review some volumes of the GEIM, Nelson's Leaps an Bounds Resources, and a few websites, most notably the Edu-gains site.
Reading Vol. 4 of the GEIM (“Assessment and Home Connections”), I was reminded of the power of descriptive feedback.
As we try to engage students in learning about their own learning, and encourage them to take a meta cognitive approach to school, it is critical that we understand the impact of the things we say to them each day. A well-intentioned “great job!” or “good for you!” reinforces the idea that the students should just perform for the benefit of the teacher, and does little to encourage critical thought about what the student himself is actually doing.
The guide suggests that quality feedback goes beyond praise (pg 16), and suggests making non-judgmental observations about student work, followed by either a very specific suggestion for next steps, or a question to encourage students to think to the next level.
I so need to review the “Asking Effective Questions” monograph, lol!
It's all very exciting to suddenly have a large interactive whiteboard (IWB) appear on ones classroom wall, but in truth, if one doesn't know how to use it, such a scenario can also present a challenge. Our limited interactions with the IWB under the guidance of our trusty Instructional Technology Resource Teacher (ITRT) last spring were nothing compared to suddenly having the thing mounted on the wall, and as a result, no blackboard space -- it has been a "jump right in by necessity" sort of thing!!! Let me share initial reflections and ramblings below...
First, let me say that bigger is better. I cannot imagine having had the smaller board. We absolutely did the right thing by getting the big one!
Happily, my colleague Dale had taken the time to research a few little ditties online like, for example, a balloon pop attendence activity and a flying goose activity. I have been using the latter almost daily, in order to just get the students used to using the board. They do seem to enjoy making their geese fly away during attendence each morning, however, with this activity emerges the first challenge: The good people who installed the board installed it way too high, so that the dear children can only reach up to perhaps the middle of the board!!! (Note to self: Upon leaving Dixie, reccommend to principal that my room be turned into a Grade 5 room, with taller students, lol!)
I must say I do love how I can just take a document and write all over it as a lesson proceeds (for example, the four corners oral language activity shown in the middle photo). I also am liking how as a demonstration tool, many things can be first focused on and then stored for later reference -- in the thrid photo above, we did a warm up activity using pattern blocks (from page 10 of the GEIM in patterning K-3). As we debriefed, I made some notes, including a table. I then selected, grouped, shrunk and moved this information to make way for the vocab chart we were generating, and the 100s chart we were looking at, but I was still able to leave it on the board, off to the side, for reference as needed.
One thing is that I need to get more proficient at using the tools, shrinking things, enlarging, moving, etc. I also find that I have been using the board more as a presentation tool, rather than a learning tool for students. Dale and I are hoping to visit a classroom in the coming weeks that uses the board with students. Now that we've mucked around with it in a real classroom with it as beginners, we need to see it in action as facilitated by an expert user!
One final complaint is that any leaning on the projector table causes the darned thing to require recalibration.
But, so far so good.
I hope to make the time for a more coherent and focussed blog pos