Sunday, April 17, 2011

What If Math Were an Elective?

Dan Meyer made a very simple statement on Twitter that really had me thinking. His statement was:
If I ask myself this question before bed, I don't sleep: "What if math were an elective?"
 It turns out I was unable to sleep as well. The question had my mind going in many directions. The first of which was how would this change the teaching of math? My first reaction is that there would be a lot fewer students taking math. Currently in Ontario students are required to take 3 math courses. Many of them don't like math and won't take a minute more than they need to. My thinking was that the teaching would need to change to engage more students. We would have to show them how useful and exciting math can be. Get them to crave more. How do we do this? By providing them with engaging problems that they can relate to, which is easier said than done. It's a lot of work but it's something to work towards.

The other questions I had were: how would this affect students? Would they have enough basic mathematical knowledge to get through life? What effect, if any, would it have on their problem solving skills? How would this affect society as a whole? How do I as a math teacher ensure that I'm making a difference?

Unfortunately, I have a lot of questions and very few answers. I'm not discouraged by this since it's questions like these that allow us to continually improve. Perhaps we should all teach our courses as though they were electives. My guess is that students would get more out of them. I think I've just set a new goal for myself: teach as though my classes are electives.

What questions do you have? Do you have any suggestions for making math more meaningful?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Setting Personal Learning Goals

One of the big things across the province right now is learning goals. A learning goal is what the students are expected to accomplish by the end of the class. The goal is explicit and is written in student friendly language. It should be posted somewhere at the beginning of the class and left visible throughout the class so that students can monitor how well they are meeting the goal throughout the period. This isn't anything new, the process has simply been formalized and reiterated.

Just as we have learning goals for students I think it only makes sense for teachers to have learning goals. These should be goals that are set periodically to help a teacher improve his or her learning. The learning could be in any area. Examples might include wanting to improve group work, learning a new method of presenting a lesson, learning a new technology, connecting with other teachers more regularly or anything else.  These goals can help teachers guide their learning just as they do for students. I don't think it's necessary for a teacher to have a learning goal every day but it may be useful to set one for a week, a month, a semester or even a year depending on what the goal is and how it is to be achieved.

My goal at the beginning of the school year was to improve my presentation skills. I have presented to the staff at the school numerous times and each time I did I felt like the presentations became more effective. After each presentation I wanted to present again. I was hooked. I decided that I wanted to present at a number of conferences so that I could refine my skills in this area. My goal wasn't to improve my methods of delivering my classroom lessons, but I think I may have improved there as well.

I submitted proposals to present at two conferences early in the school year. The first was a virtual unconference. meaning that I was presenting virtually to an audience from around the globe. The biggest challenge here was trying to figure out how to present without really getting a read on the audience. The audience was small and the presentation was alright. After the presentation I reflected on how I could improve and looked forward to the next presentation.

My second presentation was at the ECOO conference in November. This is the premier educational technology conference in the province. One of the first things I thought of after my proposal was accepted is 'what am I doing presenting at this conference? What could I possibly offer these very savvy teachers?'. As the presentation drew nearer I realized that I was likely doing some things in my class that at least some of the participants were not aware of.  Once the presentation was complete I wished that I could have another chance since there were a few things that I wanted to tweak right away. I reflected and made note of the things to improve.

The next two presentations were somewhat unexpected but since I was looking for opportunities I followed up by submitting proposals. One of the proposals was for the Eastern Ontario Staff Development Network. I presented two sessions on mobile learning. The room (although small) was full and we had to turn people away. The presentation went extremely well. I felt like I had finally mastered presenting. The feedback I received was very positive. I even had teachers asking where they could find the presentation since they couldn't attend. 

My final presentation came at the request of an assistant superintendent who had visited my class and liked how I was using technology to engage my students. She asked if I could present to the district principals on 21st Century Learning. I decided what better way to show what I was doing in class than to bring along some students. The presentation was only 30 minutes but in that time we were able to show some of the tools that could be used and gave participants an opportunity to try some of them. For me the best part of the presentation was the student involvement. It was so much more powerful for the students to show what they had learned and for them to show the principals how to use the technology than to simply have me speaking. We all received a nice letter from the assistant superintendent expressing how well received the presentation was. This letter made us realize just how valuable the knowledge that each of us possess can be to others. There was some talk at the end of the session about presenting to school staff or even students. The students I had brought along with me were so excited about this possibility.

The presentations have been great learning experiences. I'm happy with my progress towards my goal. Unfortunately, I don't think it's a goal that I can ever check off any sort of list. There's always room for improvement. If you want to get excited about teaching and learning make sure that you see both sides. Be a part of both teaching and learning.