Seek 7 Sunday

  • In light of our discussions on communities, this article from John King Jr., the current Acting Secretary of Education, was interesting.  In the article, King discusses a new initiative, “Stronger Together” , which provides “ grants to support districts with strong voluntary, community-developed plans that increase socioeconomic diversity in their schools.”  My political science work may be shining through, but I always like to connect ideas to the bigger policy discussions going on outside of classrooms.
  • In a similar “big picture” vein was something mentioned it in my blog post for the week, was the Edge of Sports podcast interview with John Angelos, which I found fascinating.  The interview focuses on the aftermath of the death of Freddie Gray and the many responses in Baltimore.  I found it to be particularly germane to our discussions as the focus is on inequality and the structural factors that create and maintain those inequalities within communities.
  • I found a new blog this week that I’ve been reading through, called The Intersection, which focuses on culture, society and race in the classroom.  In particular, I found this post really moving.   It is an open letter to students who tend towards shyness and introversion…”I will not mistake your silence, your quiet moments, for apathy. I will do better to not just provide you safe space to learn, but learn to celebrate and nurture you as you are right now.”  Its a really great lesson for teachers (and everyone) who can lose sight of people who are less comfortable speaking out.
  • Last semester, I read this book, Radical Equations, by Robert P. Moses, and wanted to recommend it for anyone looking at community based learning on a large scale.  In the book, Moses talks about the struggles and successes of community based voting reforms he worked on during the 1960’s in the American south, and, using the same community based, grassroots techniques, spread his education initiative, the Algebra Project to cities around the country.
  • I think the ideas of social and emotional learning take up a similar space as community education, in that they are critically important and complicated for education systems to measure and evaluate.  This post from Edutopia makes the case that there are real, tangible ways that Social and Emotional Learning improve performance across a number of areas.  “Research shows that SEL not only improves achievement by an average of 11 percentile points, but it also increases prosocial behaviors (such as kindness, sharing, and empathy), improves student attitudes toward school, and reduces depression and stress among students”
  • I found this personal story from a high school math teacher to be a very interesting read.  The post outlines the constant struggles and misconceptions female math teachers can face.  It remains frustrating that traditional gender roles still play such a big part in how people view careers and areas of interest.  In her words, “I worry that as we fight for greater access for women to male dominated spaces, we’re only fighting half the battle unless we simultaneously begin to value more greatly the work being done by those in traditionally female careers”.
  • On the lighter/satirical side of things, I found this Onion piece equal parts funny and biting.  One way to help improve math scores? “Allow students to take a few integers home with them after school”.  Not to read too much into a satirical news source, but I do believe that humor can shed light on some of the absurdities in our society and obviously our schools as well.
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Seek 7 Sunday

Communities and Learning

 

I’ve struggled with this post for a few days, not sure how best to reflect on the communities that I am involved in.  As a transplant from a few hours away, I feel as though I lack the long term connections to people and communities in the Philadelphia area.  I moved to Pennsylvania for a job I no longer have, so at times, I can feel untethered to local communities.  So, amidst my bout of writer’s block, I felt fortunate to receive some good news from the community I grew up in, specifically that my sister had given birth to a son. I decided to make the trip home to celebrate with my family, and on the drive, spent some time listening to some podcasts, like this one.  As I listened to this interview with John Angelos, the owner of the Baltimore Orioles, on my way home to a community where my ties were much deeper, I felt my writer’s block start to melt away.

In the interview, John Angelos speaks at length about the role that sports play in communities, and the ways in which public policies, both inside and outside sports, have affected communities in places like Baltimore.  The interview came just after the protests surrounding the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore.  Through the course of the interview, the discussion of the connections that sports can create in communities really hit home with me.  I played football in high school, and literally wore my town name on my chest.  I represented my town and community when I put on my uniform, and felt responsible to that community to carry myself the right way.  In college, I was able to connect with and represent my peers as a member of the football team.  I have no doubt that I pushed myself to be a better student and athlete as a representative of a community.  In my experience, once I felt part of a community in high school and in college, I felt comfortable to take chances and motivated to be a better athlete, student, and person.

Of course communities are built in more ways that just though sports.  Communities are built by families and neighborhoods, religious institutions, and organizations among dozens of other ways.  In the modern world, “digital media tools allow us to analyze, critique, challenge, and learn from the stories of our neighborhoods, the systems that mold and shape them, and the relationships that build and destroy them.”  Whatever way communities are built, the ties that they create make community members stronger as a group than they would be as individuals.

Within an educational context, the strength of learning communities can present an additional area of opportunity to either entrench or combat inequity in our schools.  Strong communities can affect students in meaningful way by enhancing engagement and motivation, as they have in my own life.  Schools who may be financially disadvantaged in comparison to other schools may be able improve their performance through community based initiatives.  At a time where high stakes testing has become the norm for so many schools, it is critical that educators take time to focus on the development of learning communities.

Communities and Learning

Seek 6 Saturday

  • In light of our discussion of games and playing, I thought this article was somewhat related and interesting.  The study shows that people who played video games for longer tended to perform better at navigation tasks than those who did not.  “The participants then played a little game in which they had to explore the rooms of a virtual museum. Once they’d familiarized themselves with the controls and the layout of the museum, they were tasked with finding and collecting letters in each room. The researchers scored them on how quickly they were able to get from their starting point to their destination… The students who had been playing video games the longest were the most efficient at the task and got the highest scores.”  Obviously this is far from conclusive evidence on the benefits of gaming, but certainly the results are interesting.
  • I really found the feed of Ilana Horn (@tchmathculture) interesting yesterday (2/12/16), centered around this troubling story from the New York Times.  The story itself touches on so many different elements of education, charter schools, pedagogy, and teaching students of color, among many other issues.  Ilana’s Twitter feed was a great resource for learning about some of the different angles and elements of the story.
  • Now that I’ve spent a few weeks in the ACE Mentor Program at Cheltenham, I’m getting more interested in project based learning and how it fits into a more standard curriculum (rather than outside the curriculum).  I thought this article was interesting, and related to our discussion about playing as part of education.  Whether its games or machines, students love to learn by doing.  “Taking things apart and putting them together — skills children used to absorb in Dad’s or Mom’s workshop — has an important role to play in learning…You’re exploring creativity, you’re exploring design thinking, you’re developing a sense of persistence,”
  • One idea I’ve been playing with through my studies is the ways in which we think about schools and what they should look like.  Often times, especially at the policy level, schools are seen only as businesses.  In that vein, I found this argument against the zero sum nature of competitions among public and charter schools.  I tend to agree with the outlook that much more oversight and planning is needed when working to resolve schooling in cities.
  • I might be a little lonely around here as a mathematics teacher, but I really found this blog to be a great resource, both on teaching math, as well as some of the bigger policy issues on education.  I really like the week in review that Raymond Johnson provides, and will certainly try to create something similar with the #f5f this semester.
  • I really liked Lana’s post on how she lets her students play, but in a more adult way at the college level.  “I plan field trips for them to eat in Arabic restaurants, go to Arabic concerts, and visit Arabic exhibits when they are available”.  I think that, just as we see with young children playing, and older students doing hands-on projects, that as adults, we still learn best by experiencing things, like food and culture.  (P.S. I actually wrote this summer about ways to integrate Arabic mathematical contributions into a math classroom, just another way to develop cultural bridges)
Seek 6 Saturday

Playing Games with Education

I really like video games.  I’ve played video games for just about my entire life, on all sorts of platforms and systems.  In this video, James Paul Gee makes the case that they are unique in their ability to engage people of all ages in an active, social, and complex problem solving process.  In the video, Gee talks primarily about two games, World of Warcraft and Portal.  I have not played World of Warcraft, but Portal is one of my all-time favorite games.  The first time I played Portal a few years ago, I was struck by a some different things.  The game is an elaborate puzzle, where the player has only a few tools at their disposal.  Using a portal gun, the player jumps between different parts of the level in increasingly complex ways, in order to escape to the next room.  The game play is clever and subtly asks the player to think critically about their problem solving process.  On top of the bones of the game, there is a series of narrators/announcers that at times guide you through the story and at other times, mock your lack of progress.  Beyond the unique and novel game play, the game was, without a doubt, one of the funniest games I’d ever played.

After a few years, I came back and replayed both Portal games, this time after I started studying mathematics and education.  What struck me the second time around was just how much like Algebra the game was.  In each level, there were a few constants:  The player had their portal gun, and the ability to jump.  In addition to the constants were a string of variables.  The player must place a block on a switch before the door will open, or some floors move, or some walls cannot support a portal.  On my second play through of the games, I couldn’t help but see each puzzle as a big algebraic equation, where I had to manipulate the constants and variables in order to reach the end of every level.  I felt like in playing Portal, I was flexing the same muscles I’d developed in math classes.  I realized  that I was (gasp!) learning while I was playing this game.

There are lessons for teachers to learn from games like Portal.  First, the “point” of video games is simply to have fun.  Aside from those professionally obligated to play games, most people play games to relax and to have fun.  When I play, I feel the stress and complexity of a day or week get pushed to the fringes of my brain.  I know that I have a simple and achievable goal, and that either I, or my team, will work to accomplish a goal and have a lot of fun doing it.  In the process of this fun, game players are working together, communicating and collaborating towards a specific (if semi-tangible) goal, and at the same time, engaging their problem solving parts of their brains.  Its easy to dismiss games as frivolous or time-wastes, but teachers should use every tool available to genuinely engage students.  Games in general and especially video games use fun as a type of misdirection to get students to do many of the things class curricula hope to accomplish.  As teachers, we should be conscious of new forms of media that we may be less familiar with as ways to make learning more fun and accessible for our students.

Playing Games with Education

Seek 6 Saturday

  • If you are in any way like me, you’ve found the Super Bowl impossible to avoid over the last few days.  While the analysts ran out of interesting things a few days ago, there is some really thought provoking work about Cam Newton that I’ve been reading, specifically focused on how different he is treated as a black quarterback.  I found this article particularly interesting, especially in light of our work on equity.
  • On a similar theme, I also found this piece from 1990 fascinating.  The piece centers around the election of Barack Obama’s election to editor of the Harvard Law Review.  Great quote from President Obama: “But it’s important that stories like mine aren’t used to say that everything is O.K. for blacks. You have to remember that for every one of me, there are hundreds or thousands of black students with at least equal talent who don’t get a chance,”
  • I’ve mentioned the program in an earlier post, but this was my first week working with students at Cheltenham High School as part of the ACE Mentor Program.  The students were so engaged in their work, it was inspiring to them spend their free time to learn, in an area of interest, and work so well together.  I’m sure this won’t be the last time I mention the program!
  • My undergraduate studies were focused on Political Science, so its not too surprising that I find stories like this so fascinating.  The linked interview is with Nikhil Goyal, a young education activist and author, and focuses on the public policy element of education.  “I would argue this decade of education policy [has been] characterized by neoliberal corporate education reform. And that is essentially high-stakes standardized testing, school closings, paper performance in regards to teachers — really ruthless accountability measures. [There’s also] a general sense that school should be operating like a business, and education should do more to serve the interests of corporations and the affluent, as opposed to children and educators.”.  Its easy to see the connection between inequality and the increased “corporatization” of public education.
  • I hadn’t really noticed until I read a few pieces like this, but education has been relatively ignored in the ongoing political primary season.  The linked article states the lack of clear cut talking points for either side, but it’s hard not to be frustrated by the limited attention education has received so far.
  • Growing up in Connecticut, its winter for about 9 months of the year, so indoor sports, specifically basketball, are very popular.  My friends and I spent nearly every weekend supporting our basketball teams, so I might be biased, but I loved what these students in Wisconsin did.  Teenagers rebelliousness is so common it has become cliche, but I’m very curious on how teachers can allow students to channel their rebellious attitudes in an acceptable way.  I think this is a great example.
Seek 6 Saturday

Interests and learning

Describe an interest that you had as a young person, whether or not that interest was recognized as learning in school. Write or make something about it that you can share with others … Tell us about what might have piqued this interest. How did you pursue that interest or what did it make you think about? What and who supported you as you dove deeper? In what ways were your interests connected to school, or not? What were the implications?

As a young person, I was obsessed with any and all types of games.  When I could, I would play any sport that was available to me.  Unfortunately, growing up in Connecticut, there were about 5 months of the year when the weather forced me inside.  This allowed me to focus on video games.  In a lot of ways, games and school felt at odds with each other, especially when I was young.  Video games were certainly in competition for my attention when I had homework, and sports, though they were considered less of a distraction, had little to do with my learning at school.  Looking back, sports and video games were one of the best ways I connected with my family and friends.  My father coached me in various sports, and the time before, after, and during practices and games are very important memories.  Video games were a great way for a fairly awkward young person to connect with my siblings and have fun without destroying any furniture or landscaping.

As I grew older, sports took on an even larger part of my life.  Early in my high school career, it became clear that I could be good enough to play football in college.  My family continued to support me, by helping my train and travel.  When my school was unable to videotape my games, my mother stepped in and recorded the games herself.  My support system also grew to include friends and community members, but still, my athletic career had very little to do with my academic career.  I had teachers who urged me to focus my college interests away from sports.  For a very long time, it felt as though my most passionate interest was still at odds with my schooling and learning.  The ultimate irony was that only through football was I able to attend the school I did, and my life has been better for that experience.

Reflection on my own personal experience forced me to rethink learning and schooling from a much wider lens.  Student interest can be easy to discount as frivolous or unrelated to “serious classroom learning”, but active engagement in the classroom can make a big difference.  Beyond sports, teachers and community leaders should be careful when dismissing student interest.  Modern learning is changing very day, and jobs and communities that will be important in 2025 may not even exist today.  The important takeaway for educators is that inclusiveness of ideas and interests, even if they seem silly, can help students learn more passionately and hopefully, accomplish more.

Interests and learning