When Things Go Right, and When They Go Wrong

This week I have had the opportunity to be informally observed by my Principal and my Vice-Principal; two people I highly respect not only at our school but outside as well.  My principal has been someone I have looked up to since day one at the school September of last year.  His understanding of education, how he supports the school’s culture and fosters life long learners.  The Vice-Principal was my teacher in high school; she is someone who has been a mentor to me for many years, both directly and indirectly.  Like everything in life, both observations held different experiences.

I have asked our admin team at my school to come in an observe me for a variety of reasons.  The main reason was so I can I continually improve my teaching and therefore my student’s learning.  I can “check in myself with my teaching strategies but having another person come in and look at it from the outside, is a great opportunity.  I take my administrators up on informal observations as much as I can!

Both observations this week were with my Grade 10 Applied Mathematics class.  It is a group of 23 students, varying from Grade 10 to Grade 12 students.  For some students, this is their first time learning the material, while others have taken this class once or twice before.  Students come from a variety of backgrounds, like many of the student’s we teach, and many of these students truly believe they “can’t do math.”

Tuesday was my first observation.  The class went exactly as planned.  The activities worked out better than planned, students were engaged and most came to class ready to learn.  Student’s took risks, worked together as a group, and it gave me a chance to focus on their learning and understanding, rather than the classroom management.  We collaborated, had multiple opportunities to check for understanding and used technology effectively within our classroom.  I was very pleased with how the lesson went and the understanding the student’s gained.

Unfortunately after today’s class, my second observation, I did not have the same feeling.  Today, everyone seemed to be having an off day, including myself.  After Parent-Teacher interviews last night, the energy in the school was lower and my energy was lower.  When the students entered the class, they were not ready to learn.  During our opening group activity, they conversations were not focused to their learning, but rather to various conversations about social aspects and the weekend.  When consolidating our work, my questioning was off and my explanations and connections were not seamless.  We still learned and practiced math; we worked through the challenges we each faced whether social, emotional or just plan off topic.  It was not a “pretty” class, but they all cannot be.  I understand that and it has taken me all day to be OK with it.  We all could have been better, but we all have off days.

It has been a long week for everyone.  Beyond the regular school week, it was Parent-Teacher Interviews, the devastating events in Ottawa occurred and it was the first five-day week after a shortened week.  It was also a PD Day for Elementary school students.

And it is OK not to be 100% all of the time.  No one is 100% all the time and it is the ability to work through those off days that make us strong.  How do we work as a group even when all of our members are not in it 100%?  How can we support each other to continue our learning in a supportive and positive atmosphere.  Today, I think we did that.  We let each other have the time to reset and refocus, or to take a moment and make it okay to continue our learning.  We pushed each other to complete the activities, but did this positively and respectively, understanding each other’s differences.  We worked together and we worked through our difficult day.  Monday, we will be able to continue to move forward and keep moving forward.

Why I Stand Tall for O’Canada

Before I begin, my thoughts are with everyone involved in today’s events.  Everyone who was touched by the series of devastating events in Montreal, in our capital city Ottawa and throughout the country, we as a country stand behind you in support and love.

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Everyday, our school plays  the National Anthem at 8:55am for all of the school.  Our students in classrooms and in the hallways are asked to stop and stand for O’Canada.  Throughout our National Anthem, students are talking, on their devices, falling asleep standing up, leaning on chairs and tables, and flipping through their notebooks.  I remind students to take off their hats and stand tall as this is not done naturally.

Today, after the horrible events in our nation’s capital, I have taken a moment to reflect.  Why do I stand tall for O’Canada?  Why is this Anthem so important to me?

I am Canadian.  My family is Canadian.  That does not mean I am a specific colour or speak a specific language, but rather, it means that I call Canada home.  I believe in what Canada believes in: peace, freedom and equality.  I am proud of what our country stands for and what we as a nation have been able to achieve both at home and afar.  I support our troops, no matter what the mission, and hope for their safe return.  I believe in our democracy and our “sorry’s.”  I believe in how we come together as a Nation and how we always lend a helping hand to each other and to our friends.

So I stand for O’Canada to show my support.  I stand for O’Canada to let the world know that we are together, as one Nation, to stand for what we believe in.  I stand tall during O’Canada to remember.  I remember those who have given their lives before us and the ones who are currently risking their lives.  I remember the events in our history that have made us stronger as a Nation.  I stand for O’Canada to reflect on how we, as a Nation, work together, help each other and move forward; how we stand as a Nation no matter what.

No matter where you are in the world, our National Anthem reminds you of home, reminds you of the country you are from and reminds you of the nation that supports each other.  Our National Anthem shows a strong country, one that will not fall into the hands of hatred or anger.  Our National Anthem reminds the world that Canada will continue to stand for what it believes in: freedom, peace, love and dignity.

Next time, you are standing in your classroom, or at home or at the hockey game, listening to our National Anthem, reflect on what you stand for and what O’Canada means to our Nation.  Take that one minute and thirty-two seconds to stand for what you believe in, to stand for your nation and to stand behind your Nation.

Drag and Drop Programming

Today I had that moment – the moment where you look at what you have been teaching and question why.  This is my second semester teaching an ICS3U/4U class, and we use Python and Java.   The Grade 12’s are in their second semester of Java, through NetBeans, and the Grade 11’s are currently working in Python with Repl.it.

What do my students get stuck on the most?  What frustrates my students and may turn them off from the concepts of computer science?  Syntax!

When we add in syntax the languages, I find that my classroom is filled with frustrated students who are just missing a semi-colon at the end of a line (Java) or who have not fully indented from a conditional statement (Python).  Students become caught-up in the syntax and forget about problem solving through the program or understanding what the various programming constructs can do.  A comparison would be to learning math.  If we were taking the derivative of a function, and kept getting stuck on the multiplication and addition, or simplifying the expression, we would soon forget what we were trying to accomplish in the first place.

The tweet from Rob McTaggart sharing this link: http://t.co/l5WY1qKYcGwas what got me questioning why I teach Java and Python to my students:

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This video raises some valid points – why do we teach students computer science through languages that are no user-friendly?  Why do we allow our students to get stuck on that syntax rather than breaking that problem down to solve it or implementing programming structures to make a process more efficient?  Why are we stuck in “the way it has always been done?”

Looking at my class, I ask myself, why did I choose Java?  Yes, this is in industry and a well-known language, but why Java specifically?  Why haven’t we taken the frustration out of our computer science classrooms and give our students a chance to practice their problem solving skills and critical thinking?

With this in mind, I am going to take on that challenge.  I am going to start to move away from those heavy syntax languages and allow my students the opportunity to test out their understanding of programming structures and their ability to break down a problem by dragging and dropping their ideas.  Knowing that the student’s will not be getting ‘stuck’ on the syntax of the languages, I can now give them more challenging and deep problems to solve.

Throwing the question back out on Twitter, David Neumann, replied with these suggestions:

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Now my project, and my student’s project is to start looking into SNAP!  Our task as a class will be to look into this program and see if it is something we want to pursue.  I feel that it is important that the students are involved in this process as it’s them who will be using this program and learning from it.

How to do allow your student to move past the “syntax” in your subject and find deeper meaning in their learning?

Getting Ready for #gafesummit #Ottawa

It’s a rainy Friday night in Toronto and I am sitting at Pearson Airport watching the planes take off – and waiting for mine to land. The weather has delayed many flights and I send props to those managing the chaos.

I am so excited to be heading to Ottawa for the weekend to participate, present and connect. I have been thinking about it and talking about it all week! But now that I am stuck at the airport, it has given me time to ground and really think on what I want to accomplish this weekend.

I am not one to make goals, or when I do, I often don’t reflect back, but I’ll give it a go. I want to make the most of this weekend.

I want to leave the GAFE Summit with two things:

Firstly, I want to bring back specific tips and thoughts for integrating GAFE into our math classrooms.

As an educator, I feel that technology and the wonders of GAFE integrate seamlessly into some subjects and topics. These apps and tech tools allow for learning to be accessible and interactive for all students. Students have the opportunity to develop that deep understanding in many new, redefined, ways with technology and I struggle with applying this to my math class. With all of the fabulous minds coming to Ottawa this weekend I am sure I’ll be able to find some ideas to take back to my classroom, my department and my school.

Secondly, I want to connect.

The last GAFE Summit I attended in Kitchener, I was… well… overwhelmed to say the least. There was so much to take in, so much to do and so many people who were role models both through my school and through my PLN there. Yes, they were there in person! I saw these people who I have followed on Twitter, read their blogs and learned from their sharing. I felt like a child seeing Harry Potter in person whispering “Oh my! Guess who I just saw!” This time around, I hope to utilize my time a bit better. I want to speak to those people and make those connections. I want to continue to learn from them and start conversations – rather than point and run away.

Although the these are two simple goals, they are complex and difficult in. Themselves. I am an outgoing person when I know the person who I am with, but I often struggle to put myself out there. This weekend I challenge myself to overcome that.

What are your goals for your next PD?

Positive Energy

This season I am the coach of the Sr. Boys Volleyball team at my school. The team consists of 14 players, who are a mix of grade 12+, 12, 11 and 10 students. These students come from all “groups” at school – some are involved in jazz band, the golf team, basketball, and for some, this is their first team. Some students have played rep volleyball, some played on the team last year and some have never played outside of P.E.

The start of the season has had its highs and its lows. We started off the season with a win, and then challenged top-scoring teams, and then took a turn for the worse. We got down on ourselves. We got upset with each other and forgot the power of positivity.

On the court, we strive to be the loudest team. We are loud to show support to each other. We are loud to cheer for each other and celebrate everything. We are loud through cheering and clapping – all positive and all sportsmanlike. We focus on us and our team.

Last week we were unable to make this happen. We got down on ourselves and our team mates and we were quiet. We didn’t find it in us to rise to the challenge. We stopped being positive and started picking on the little mistakes.

Today, however, we found our voices. Down two sets to none, we took a different approach. We just had fun. We did not worry about “the score” or hitting the ball three times, and we just played. We played like we play in practice. We cheered at the great passes and celebrated the points that came our way. We helped each other correct mistakes, but did not harp on them. We found our team.

We practice tomorrow with another game Thursday and will take on this s and mindset. It is easy to get caught up on points and the score, and lose sight why we play. We play because we enjoy it. Yes it is nice winning, but if we don’t enjoy it, what’s the point?

How do we keep up this mindset? How do we stay positive? How do you keep your team ps outlive and herring even in the difficult (and maybe less fun) times?

As a new coach I do not know – please help!

#reflectiveteacher – Day 2 #mathchat

Write about one piece of technology that you would like to try this year, and why.

One piece of technology I would like to try in my classroom would be to integrate ChromeBooks into my math classroom.

On Friday I had a great conversation with a couple colleagues about the future of mathematics in the classroom. Is mathematics becoming more like Latin? Do we need more than Grade 8 Math in our everyday lives? Do we really need to spend time learning how to draw graphs of functions or should we use technology to graph then work on the interpretation and collection of data for such function?

As technology has the ability to level the playing ground in a mathematics classroom and gives the students the possibility if using the mathematics to make new connections. Utilizing ChromeBooks into math classrooms will also give the students a chance to check their answers, observations, guesses and predictions. I believe that with the integration if the world at our finger tips, our math classrooms become about using the mathematics in the real world rather than getting stuck on the tricks and rules.

Is mathematics becoming like Latin?

#reflectiveteacher – Day 1

“Write your goals for the school year”

What are my goals for the school year? What is it that I want to accomplish this year? My classes are a Grade 11M math, Grade 10P math and a split 11/12U computer science. What is it that I want to accomplish over the next five months? How am I going to achieve these goals?

I think I have one goal that encompasses all of my classes and through coaching senior boys volleyball this semester.

My goal for this school year is to increase the confidence in my students when taking risks

Yes, I do know that it is very general and a goal many teachers have but I think it is specific for my school year. In my classes, whether it is with a new subject like computer programming or in a mathematics class, students need to know they are okay to make mistakes and they have the ability to learn and be successful. Over the past two weeks I have learned that many students in the courses I am specifically teaching are taking that level of math because they believe they are not good at math, that they can’t do math and that there is no need to try. I want to chance this.

In our mathematics classes, we are looking at the How to Learn Math for Students course offered at Stanford University. In this course, students have a chance to learn that they may not like math, not because they can’t do it, but because of negative experiences they have had with the topic. This is my starting place for this goal.