Search 7 Sunday

Throughout the semester, I am investigating different ways we can use connected learning to mitigate the inequities students face that are rooted in resource and financial inequality.  This week, I tried to focus on some different resources that can be used in and out of the classroom to minimize an inequitable division of school resources.

  • I spend a huge percentage of my ‘online time’ using Twitter, so it was the first tool I thought of when discussing openly networked learning tools.  I think it’s a relatively meritocratic platform, since people can share ideas and respond to others so easily with no ‘gatekeeper’.  Everyone gets 140 characters.  I loved the idea of a Do Now, which integrates Twitter (and other platforms) into a classroom community.
  • A slightly less open network (but still very valuable) that I’ve used before is Edmodo (although Lana beat me to the punch).  The way I think of Edmodo is a classroom-sized Facebook, where students can track their assignments and communicate directly with teachers.  Parents are also able to use Edmodo as a tool to easily stay in the loop with their children’s teachers.
  • One tool I’ve seen used in other education classes is a Flipped Classroom.  A flipped classroom is one where students view a lecture as homework, and then do the more hands-on and collaborative work in the classroom, rather than at home by themselves.  Using free tools like Youtube, its easy for a teacher to create a 5-10 minute video that students can then watch on their own.
  • When I was an undergraduate, I took a class on the history of food in America, and every few weeks, our assignment was to update a Wikipedia page on a topic we were studying, complete with proper citation.  I think using online Wiki’s as a learning tool is a great way for students to do work that reaches a larger audience (or network) outside of the classroom.
  • One tool I haven’t used, but that I learned about this week was QR codes.  The linked piece walks through a couple different features and extensions, like gathering data or linking to social media.  If you haven’t seen or used QR codes, they are these boxes (below) that you can scan using a phone, which will complete an action associated with the code.  If you want to try it out, you can get a free code scanner app and try it out.  This code is linked to a world famous blog (I created the code using this site).  Again this is a free tool that integrates student involvement and technology into the classroom.


  • I also came across this interview that I really wanted to share.  Its not explicitly connected to openly networked learning, but it is related to issues of race, education and reform, specifically focused on Teach for America and diversity.  I think the “magic bullet” education reform idea was on my mind this week after reading about AltSchool (here).
  • And finally, I came across this piece from the New Yorker, which takes a closer look at AltSchool, which we read about this week .  Personally, I find this type of approach to schooling to be very narrow and even more limited than what the founders call “standardized” public schools.  While many in the business and tech world see big data as a solution to all of life’s problems, I have a healthy skepticism of a for-profit school founded by people with no formal education background.



Search 7 Sunday

Small Moves

Last summer, I took part in an independent study on the history of mathematics.  Since the course was an independent study, I had freedom to study topics of my choosing, and then reflect on how these topics may relate to my own experience as a math teacher.  My expectation of the course was that I would read a book, and then write a paper, then rinse and repeat a few times, and be done with my work.  During our first session, my professor made a ‘small move’ that changed the scope of my work.  He had a moment where, while we were discussing our plans for the independent study, almost out of nowhere, said to me, “But, who cares?” At first it seemed out of place coming from a professor, but luckily, his emphasis was on the who.  He wanted to make my work matter outside the walls of his office, and wanted to think about an appropriate audience for my work.  He felt that that writing for an audience of one was limiting and would ultimately have little meaning.  Instead, we decided to try and create a broader audience for my work, so rather than just writing and submitting essays, I created a blog, where I reflected on the books I was reading. But, it wasn’t enough to simply create a blog and post online for an audience of one, so we also considered how best to spread my work and to whom.  ‘Who cares’ became part of my assignment, and how to reach that audience became as much a part of my work as mathematics history.

This changed the way I thought about my work and changed how I presented my ideas. Since I had a general audience in mind, rather than my professor (an education scholar) the language I used was different.  I thought more deeply (and edited more fastidiously) knowing that when I published my work, other educators, professionals, and friends would be reading what I wrote.  The small move of publishing online heightened my engagement, since there were so many additional, unforeseen elements to blogging, as compared to just writing an essay.  Beyond the writing, I had to sell and market my work in different ways.  I created a Twitter feed as a means to reach a wider audience, and searched out math education #hashtags and people.  I posted to Facebook, and asked other teachers that I knew to share or retweet my work.  I had to consider how to format in a digital space, and incorporate images to better explain what I was saying.  And finally, once other people read my work, I had the opportunity to respond to their comments and engage with new peers.

I’d like to model this type of small move in my own classroom in the future.  A tweak like challenging students expectations about the audience for their work can make a big difference.  The reasons my ‘small move’ was so personally important was that there was no rubric or path laid out for me.  The structure (or lack of structure) of an independent study lent itself to the more open ended nature of the assignment.  Recreating this type of freeform, online engagement in a high school math class could be more difficult, but may also provide an opportunity to differentiate assessment.  Publishing work online and receiving feedback is something that I would love to incorporate into a math classroom, especially if students will respond like I did, and take extra care with their work.  Personally, I found a different type of clarity and humanity in researching famous mathematical figures that can be ignored in mathematics education.  This deeper level of understanding, in addition to the engagement created by placing and promoting my work online really changed how much I’ve taken from my independent study.  Students that ask “Who Cares?” about math and who connect more with different content areas may find approaches to math that incorporate history and social media more engaging, which in turn may spark a deeper interest in learning.  I like the idea of changing the meaning of “who cares?” in a math classroom, and hopefully some ‘small moves’ will help me get there.

Small Moves

Search 7 Sunday

  • I thought this piece from The Nation was a good primer on racial inequality in education.  It draws directly from findings from the Department of Education, and makes a very strong case that the time is now for change.  From the piece, “Analysts found that black, Latino and Native American students have less access to advanced math and science courses and are more likely to be taught by first-year instructors than white students. Black and Native American students are also suspended and expelled at disproportionate rates.”
  • While some point to charter schools as a new way forward, new research shows that the policies of racial inequality have made their way into charter schools.  The study focused on the disciplinary actions of charter schools, nationwide, and found some very troubling results, including “a disturbing number are suspending big percentages of their black students and students with disabilities at highly disproportionate rates compared to white and non-disabled students”…”While it would seem self-evident that kids don’t learn if they’re not in school, extensive research has demonstrated that frequently suspending students for even minor infractions predicts lower academic achievement, higher dropout rates and too many kids being pushed onto a pathway to prison.”
  • This article from the National Education Association digs deeper into the similar ideas, focusing on the breadth and complexity of reform, and the many elements that make positive change in schools so difficult. “Educators are well aware of two things. First is that President George W. Bush was fundamentally right when he highlighted massive inequalities in education for minority students. Second was that he was fundamentally wrong in thinking it can be solved by high-stakes testing of children and sanctioning of schools.”
  • In the movement towards reforming education, too often politicians and reformers over-promise and oversell a special, one size-fits-all model that can be transplanted to a number of other under-performing districts.  Diane Ravitch cautions against this type of easy answer.  “My view is that school improvement goes hand in hand with improvement of people’s lives. That is not to argue against school improvement–every school can improve–but to say that we are too quick to grab onto innovations and promote them without giving them a chance to mature and prove themselves.”
  • Rather than providing a blueprint or all-in-one solution, Edutopia provides a framework for teacher and administrators to work within to best help their own schools.  I like this idea, because rather than providing a success story to model, the responsibility is given to those with the most to gain by improving a school: Teachers and administrators at that school.
  • Reform and change, to be most effective and long lasting, should come from the schools and communities, rather than politicians.  Actions like these, from the NAACP in Youngstown, Ohio, seem to be in the right direction.  The quotes from students and parents are very affecting.  A student asks: “Like how do you want us to learn and get all this stuff we need to know for the tests. You want us to pass when we don’t even have the stuff that we need to pass them with?”.  And from a parent: “Our kids are getting cheated. They are. They are getting cheated and we, the Parent Student Union, the NAACP, the Parent Empowerment, we are going to change this”.
  • Even closer to home, in Philadelphia, a number of young people are taking the mantle of civil rights upon themselves.  This type of active engagement in the community reminded me of our work this week on shared purpose.  This type of grassroots effort, based in the community is how real change gets done.
    “We just had a meeting and one of the students, Samara, she said, you know, ‘They keep having all these protests and nothing changes,” principal and founder of the Jubilee School, Karen Falcon, said. “And she said, ‘I think we should have a children’s protest. Maybe they’ll listen to the children’.”
Search 7 Sunday

Shared Purpose and Learning

In learning about shared purpose, I struggled to connect this type of experience to my own learning history, especially inside a class.  Outside of the classroom, the best example that comes to mind (especially this week with the NCAA tournament underway) was my time playing sports.  Team sports require collaboration and cooperation between large groups of teammates, with a specific and tangible goal of winning.  Teammates work together towards a shared purpose that hangs over every practice and workout, and even permeates into individuals identity and values.  The same can be said of other types of extracurricular activities, like drama or music.  In the classroom, it is a much bigger challenge to create that shared purpose, since the goals of a classroom tend to be less tangible and focused, or, if they are tangible, goals are related to standardized test scores and performance.  Without a specific end result, like a game against a rival school, or a play to be performed at the end of the year, creating shared purpose in a classroom seems very challenging.

Within my educational experience, I have some difficulty in finding many examples of shared purpose in the classroom.  Only in the last few months, as part of a project based learning initiative have I seen the beginnings of a shared purpose among learners.  The ACE Mentor Program uses a few key components of shared purpose as its goals.  Students have genuine interest in architecture and engineering, so the program is already personally relevant.  Additionally, the program uses as a case study the construction of a local elementary school, making the work even more personal to the students communities.  Again, like sports and drama club, ACE is a program that exist outside of the normal day-to-day classroom, so it benefits from a different set of priorities and needs.  While project based learning may be comparatively straightforward to implement, shared purpose learning requires a deeper commitment from teacher and schools that change the way students engage with and think about school, while also integrating goals related to curriculum.

I found it interesting to that in this Harvard Business Review piece, that the three examples of shared purpose driving collaboration were all created in times of emergency. It speaks to the challenge of organically creating a shared purpose in a classroom.  If it takes a large scale disaster to create a sense of shared purpose in modern society, how can a teacher create shared purpose among a class, and fit it within a curriculum?  I think that shared purpose goes beyond project based learning in its goals.  While a PBL class or program looks to engage students to build or make something as a learning experience, I think shared purpose is about changing the nature of a classroom.  Shared purpose uses big picture projects in the community to engage students to make a difference, and create learning opportunities organically.  The most interesting examples in this chapter (starting at page 87) from Danielle Filipiak’s book Teaching in the Connected Classroom were classes that were called to a shared purpose in times of strife in their community.  I found each story interesting, but was left with some questions.  Does shared purpose learning need to come from a problem?  If educators try to force a purpose that students do not find interesting, what can happen?  I wonder how and if shared purpose learning can be used regularly, or if these types of projects require a more organic, or spontaneous focus.

Shared Purpose and Learning

Seek 6 Saturday: Creativity and Inspiration

  • I’m not the most creative person in the world.  I like to write, but beyond that, my creative output is relatively limited.  The great thing about becoming a teacher these days is that there are tremendous resources available online (and elsewhere) that make being creative easy for everyone.  I really like this tool, EDpuzzle.  EDpuzzle allows you to customize videos for your class, by letting you edit the length and adding questions.  You can also see who in your class got through the video and/or answered any questions.  I think this is a pretty great tool to make videos more useful and better integrated into your lesson plans.
  • My time at Cheltenham High School has exposed me to some pretty cool ways to get creative.  Through the ACE Mentor program, I’ve gotten the chance to meet some very creative professionals and students interested in building and design.  A colleague introduced me to TinkerCad.  This is another online tool that allows you to design 3D projects with a huge amount of options and adaptability.
  • One thing I think about a lot is how to be creative in a math classroom.  At times, it can be hard, since some of the material hasn’t change since Euclid’s day.  This resource has a lot of cool lessons that help make lessons modern and meaningful, often times integrating things like Instagram and video games, which can only make things more interesting for students.  I spent a lot of time on this site, but its probably more valuable for math teachers than others.
  • Generally, when I get creative, I write.  Over the last year, as part of my teaching certification process, I have found a few new ways to get creative.  Last semester, I took a computer science class where I was able to learn the basics of writing code in Java.  I was able to write some simple games, which was a completely new creative outlet.  I really enjoyed the process, and found that the combination of creatively writing a game alongside problem solving was a very relaxing and fun process for me.  There are a million (or so) resources online to learn to code, but this one in particular seemed like it could be used in the classroom.
  • On a related note, I saw an interesting article from The Atlantic about the way we teach coding in schools, and how unintended consequences can arise.  Over the last few years, many students, especially those who are underrepresented in the STEM fields have been pushed towards coding, though without a more in-depth education on computational thinking.  The article investigates some very interesting arguments and asks some hard questions: “Will the emphasis on knowing how to code put students of color on the bottom rung of the tech workforce?”.
  • On a personal note, the most inspirational and motivational forces in my life tend to be my friends and family.  Over the last few weeks, no one has inspired me more than an old friend from college.  Casey Gerald, a football teammate of mine, recently gave a TED talk in Vancouver about the value of doubt and the different role of faith plays in our lives.  My summary is surely not doing Casey justice, and I will share the video of his talk when it becomes available, but for now, please check out his story here.
Seek 6 Saturday: Creativity and Inspiration

My learning process, all mapped out

My Map

This week, I made a map of my (formal) learning career, using a map of the North Eastern part of the United States.  I created my map using Paint, and then my presentation using Prezi, and it can be found here.

I’ve always had an interest in maps, so when I had the chance to make one about my own educational life, I was intrigued.  When we tell the stories of our lives, they often follow a linear path through time.  With a map, we can show how things have changed not just over time, but over place as well.  For my map, I wanted to show the distance I’ve covered, literally and figuratively, in my educational career.  As I worked through my education, I found that there were content specific things that influenced me, but, by comparison, there was much more I had learned by being somewhere new.  I know that as a person, I tend to have mixed feelings towards new experiences, but as I worked through my map and my education, I see that usually, going somewhere new has been a tremendous learning experience.

In the context of learning communities and connected learning, this project forced me to think about what made certain experiences more valuable than others.  I mention in my map that I had a difficult experience at Bryant University, where I worked and studied for a year.  I think the biggest challenge I faced was disconnection from the learning community.  Through the course of my work and studies, I had little chance to connect with many people in that community, and as such, felt as though I was out of place.  This made me think how long it really takes to build a learning community.  If someone like me struggled to fit in at an established University, how difficult must it be for younger students to fit in at a new middle or high school? Even still, I learned when I struggled, and I learned when I failed, and that is the best motivation I will take out of my project.

As an educator, big, messy tasks like building communities and resolving inequities among students take a tremendous amount of work, and may not pay off for some time.  It can be difficult to keep your focus and effort up when the results seem to be non-existent.  We should remember that in our own lives, the things we’ve accomplished have been messy and circuitous, full of false starts and missed chances.  When we reflect back, we still can find importance and progress in every step.  There is a quote from Jacob Riis, about the importance of work in spite of limited results that teachers should take to heart:

“When nothing seems to help, I go look at a stone cutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before.”

Keep pounding the rock.  Building learning communities will be slow work and the progress may be imperceptible.  Resolving inequity in a school or a district or a county make take years and careers, but teachers must keep trying in spite of limited results.  Teachers must keep pounding the rock.  Some day it will break.


My learning process, all mapped out