When A Passing Comment Leads To A Light Bulb Moment

At the end of last week, I had the opportunity to attend and present at the OTF – Teaching Math Through Problem Solving Conference. After my two presentations, I attended a water cooler session, where I got to sit down with Matthew Oldridge, Royan Lee, and various conference goers to talk about math. This was an informal conversation that touched the most on pedagogical documentation, the learning environment, and how we plan the most effectively for kids. 

I share all of this because my greatest aha moment happened at the beginning of this conversation and before most people arrived. Our water cooler talk was right next door to Jon Orr‘s incredibly popular session, and at first, the only people coming into our room were doing so in order to grab chairs to move next door. This gave Matthew, Mary-Kay Goindi (she helped directionally challenged me find my way to the right room 🙂 ), and I, a few quiet moments to talk. 

The three of us are quite a diverse group of educators. I teach Kindergarten, Matthew supports math educators from Kindergarten to Grade 12, and Mary-Kay is a K-8 teacher librarian, who also teaches Grade 8 math. We don’t appear to have much in common. Our conversation proved otherwise. 

During our talk about math, we started to discuss patterning. I can’t quite remember how this topic came up, but it did. When Mary-Kay started to talk about AB patterns, I was about to mention the simplicity of these types of patterns, and how we encourage students to move from them to more complicated patterns (e.g., ABB or ABBA ones). And then she made the comment that led to my light bulb moment: the important learning that comes from these types of patterns is when students begin to realize that there are the same number of one colour or object as the other one. Just like in ABB patterns, they see that there are twice as many of one colour or object as another one. Of course! This is how patterning connects to algebra (mic drop). In all of my years teaching elementary math, I always emphasized the repetitive nature of patterns … but Mary-Kay’s passing comment made me realize that there’s even bigger learning that comes from patterns.

I’m now starting to think about the questions that we ask around patterning. 

  • What if we helped students see these number relationships instead?
  • What value might this have for them initially and in the long run?

All of a sudden, I see a much stronger connection between patterning and number sense, and I’m re-evaluating how I approach and respond to patterning in the classroom. I can’t wait to talk to my teaching partner about this as we look ahead to next year. 

This experience on Thursday reminded me about the importance of connecting with educators from all grade levels and disciplines. I can’t help but think about my “one word” — perspective — and the value in conversing with people who share different perspectives. You never know when, or from whom, you’re going to learn something new. I wonder how we make these kinds of cross-grade learning opportunities more prevalent at a school and Board level. What have you tried? How has it worked? If we’re open to it — and take that important “learning stance” — I think there’s a lot of potential here. What do you think?

Aviva

I Packed. I Came. I Shared. And Now I’m Left Wondering.

Yesterday, I had the amazing opportunity to present at the OTF – Teaching Math Through Problem Solving Conference. When Mary-Kay Goindi initially asked me to present, she emphasized that it was important to have hands-on components to the sessions. I decided to facilitate two sessions that were connected togetherone on Math Through Play and one on Documentation. I was excited to bring some “free play” to the conference, and hopefully get people thinking about the math that happens in the everyday and that can be extended through noticing and naming math behaviours. 

As Mary-Kay noted in her tweet yesterday morning, I did not pack light for this conference. 

(Note that the suitcase that’s beside the cart was full of materials as well.)

I’m a big believer in the fact that a Kindergarten classroom provides an optimum learning environment for kids. Math becomes embedded in the whole day, and students really start to see themselves as mathematicians: asking questions, solving problems, and using mathematical vocabulary that we have exposed them to throughout the year. Since I couldn’t bring the people to our classroom, I decided to bring our classroom to the people. 

I really wanted to make this learning authentic, so I chose to present the materials, in much the same way as we present them.

  • There were no signs.
  • There were no posted questions or activities.
  • I told the participants that they could touch everything, move things around, and use items in any way that they wanted. 

For both sessions, I created Padlet walls, where people could add links, ideas, questions, and comments. During the Documentation session, I also printed some documentation examples to include around the room, and encouraged people to document their play: even talking to other educators during the process, as a way to analyze what they observed and discuss and determine some possible next steps. I was so excited about this! I loved the fact that these sessions were not going to be “sit and get” ones, and that as teachers played more, they could discuss different options to link “learning” and “play” in all grades. I’ll admit that in my dream world of how this was all going to come together, we would all get to listen to and participate in rich discussions, ask questions, and leave with new ideas to contemplate and new things to try. 

And while this did happen with a group of participants, something else also happened: in both sessions, the majority of people left early. In the second session, the room almost cleared out completely as soon as I told people that they could “start playing.” In the first session, it took a little longer for this to happen. Some people came to talk to me first, and a few were surprised that our “play time” is our “learning time,” and all tools become “math tools.” Our conversations continued for a little while, but often after talking (and normally without playing), people left. On one hand, I can attribute people leaving to factors such as,

  • this was the second day of the conference, and people were tired.
  • there were lots of interesting sessions happening at the same time, and people wanted to see other ones.
  • my second session was close to lunch, and people were hungry.
  • many people attended both of my sessions, so by the end of the second one, they may have seen and explored everything.
  • people got the ideas and the links to the presentations. Maybe for some people, this was enough.

But on the other hand, I’m left worrying and wondering if there were other reasons for them leaving.

  • Did the sessions not meet their needs? Should I have shown a bigger variety of examples to the full group, and not just have included the links in the Padlets?
  • Did I “release responsibility” too early? Did we need to engage in more playing and documenting as a full group before people went to do so on their own?
  • Was “free play” too “free” for adults? Are we looking for “instructions,” and does this eventually lead students to do the same? How might we change this, and is this something that’s worth changing?
  • “Sit and get” PD is often criticized (I do this as well), but is this what some people wanted? Why? Or did I just need to find a better middle ground?

Criticism is rarely easy to take, but I think that we can learn a lot from all kinds of feedback. I’m making inferences based on my observations from yesterday, and while I did receive some very positive feedback, I also can’t ignore what I saw. Now I’m hoping to hear more. If you were at these sessions, what did you think, and if you weren’t, what might you suggest based on what I shared here? Yesterday, I was excited about the possibilities of “play,” and while some play happened, many materials were left untouched. The learner and questioner in me, needs to find out why.

Can you help?

Aviva

Are The “Process Expectations” About More Than Just Math?

This afternoon, I had the pleasure of sitting with some educators from our school and some educators from a neighbouring school to help plan our upcoming PA Day. For part of the PA Day, we’re going to be exploring the process expectations in math: problem solving, reasoning and proving, reflecting, selecting tools and strategies, connecting, representing, and communicating. As our conversation progressed today, I started to wonder if these mathematical processes are actually about more than just math.

It started with the problem solving expectation. I thought about an experience from this morning (that I wish I recorded by I accidentally missed). This Instagram post sums up what happened though.

While this discussion was not about a “math problem,” it did start with bringing a “problem” to the class: the need to display art for our upcoming Art Gallery. Students took this problem and started to generate solutions, which eventually led to a child measuring and cutting brown paper for our bulletin boards. 

This is just one example, but there could be so many more. I think about what happened the other day when it was really muddy outside, and we told the children that they could not go on the grass in the outdoor classroom. The other Kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Raymond, mentioned that the grass may not grow back in the springtime if it continues to be trampled down. When the children went outside with their snacks, one of our students found some wood pieces behind the shed. He really wanted to get over to the little plastic house in the corner of the grassy area to eat his snack. He thought that if he could “build a bridge” over to the house, then he would be able to walk over there without walking on the grass. Now this is problem solving!

This problem solving continued as he ran out of wood and had to make other changes.

This was not just about problem solving though. Think about the tools and strategies used, reflecting during the process, and communicating thinking throughout. This communication continued after creating the bridge, as this child then used PicCollage to write a note to Mrs. Raymond to ask her about keeping it. 

I realize that there are math connections to this problem, especially related to measurement. This was not presented as a math problem though. In fact, it was not presented as a problem at all. We initially just said, “No mud or grass.” The child created the problem when he identified his desire to eat his snack in the plastic house and realized that he could not get to it without walking on the mud. This is when he found another way.

The Kindergarten Program Document emphasizes that math and language should not be taught in isolation, but instead, reinforced through play. This is where “noticing and naming” are so important. We can see the learning in action and make the connection, for the students, to the expectations. With this approach, I think that we get richer learning, but we also get these process expectations embedded in so much of what we do all day long. And as students problem solve, reason and prove, reflect, select tools and strategies, connect, represent, and communicate in one subject area, will this make them feel even more confident to do so in other subject areas? I think these process expectations cause us to think more about how children learn, in math and beyondWhat do you think?

Aviva

Breaking At #BIT16: My Self-Regulated Conference Experience

Last night, I returned home from the Bring I.T. Together Conference. This was the first conference that I’ve attended since finishing the Foundations 1 course through The MEHRIT Centre. I didn’t realize that this course would have such a huge impact on my conference experience, but it did. 

I started to realize this on Wednesday night when the Mega Minds on Media session ended. I was not as busy as I’ve been in past years — with visits at the table going in ebbs and flows — but by the time that the last person arrived to talk about Explain Everything, it took every bit of mental energy in me to find the words to engage in a conversation about this app. I knew then that I was drained, and I needed a chance to relax my body and mind. I quickly packed up and headed to my hotel across the street, and spent some quiet time unpacking and watching video recordings from my teaching partner and supply teacher, highlighting the learning that happened in class that day. These videos made me happy and excited about some new possibilities. That’s when I checked my tweets about meeting up with Adele to finalize our presentation for the next day. We decided to meet over in her hotel room. Little did I know that making it to this hotel room would be a 40 minute quest full of many stressors.

It all started when Adele mentioned that if I happened to have “crackers,” I could bring them over. I didn’t, but I hate to go anywhere empty-handed, so I decided that there must be a place to buy some. I called down to the front desk, and found out that there’s a convenience store a block away. I started heading there, but then wasn’t sure which direction to take, so thought that I could find something in the lobby of the hotel to buy. I found a Starbucks at the Marriott, and thought that nuts and bagels are kind of like crackers: they at least belong to the same family of foods. I bought them and headed upstairs to Adele’s room. I knocked … three times, no answer. Did I have the room number wrong? I decided to check my iPad, but realized that I forgot it back over at my hotel. No problem. I’d ask at the desk. The problem was that Adele wasn’t registered there, and I couldn’t remember the last name of her roommate. Aargh! It was time to haul all of the goodies back to my hotel and check. When I got there — of which, now it was 25 minutes past when I should have been in Adele’s room — I decided to take the elevator that I thought was closer to my room to save some time. It turns out though that this elevator went to the same floor as mine, but somehow, the hotel rooms on this side of the building didn’t connect with the ones on the other size … and I was now in a maze of hotel rooms, searching to find my way back to the elevator. When I managed to do that, I went down, walked across the lobby, and took the other elevator up to the floor. Then I found my hotel room, and thankfully, my iPad. Now I had a new problem: the room number that I went to at the Marriott was the same as the one that Adele messaged me, so why didn’t she answer the door? Thirty-five minutes into this hotel adventure, I write Adele again, and she says that she’ll meet me in the lobby of her hotel. That’s when I think back to a couple of years ago, and vaguely remember that there are two Marriott hotels right near each other. Did I go to the wrong one? I look back on the name of the one that she sent me, and I realize that it’s similar to — but not exactly the same — as the one that I see outside of my hotel room window. I get downstairs and ask the parking attendants where I can find the right Marriott. Their response: “turn the corner.” I do … and about 40 steps from where I’m standing is the hotel that I tried to find 40 minutes ago. 🙂 Can you feel my stress? 

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While this story provided many laughs throughout the conference, that night, I realized how draining it can be to get lost in so many different ways. By the time that I went through the presentation with Adele and enjoyed dinner out with her and some other conference goers, I was exhausted. Dinner ended around 8:30, and I was invited back to the room with the others, but I knew that I needed a chance to unwind. In previous years, I would have socialized anyway, but on Wednesday night, I thanked everyone for a wonderful time, and headed back to my hotel (thankfully without getting lost).

Then comes Thursday: the day that I have two presentationsWhile both presentations seemed to go quite well, it was definitely a non-stop day full of way more talking than I’m used to doing in a day. Plus, the Bring I.T. Together Conference is full of many opportunities to socialize and meet new people in-person that you may have only connected with online. As I mentioned in a recent post on The MEHRIT Centre blog, all of this small talk can be a social stressor for me, so while I loved the opportunity to connect, I was definitely feeling it at the end of the day. That night, I was supposed to go to two different social events, but instead, I went back to the hotel room, watched some more video uploads from my teaching partner, and took a nap. I then went out for a quick and quiet dinner with some friends, and happily went back to the hotel room early to go to bed. I needed this low-key evening to help self-regulate after a very up-regulating day. 

Early the next morning, I caught a tweet from Jonathan So about his Ignite presentation that I missed the night before. That’s when I engaged in this Twitter conversation with him.

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screenshot-2016-11-12-at-15-13-50 I realized that in past years, I would have forced myself to go out. I would have come back exhausted, and I probably would have struggled with learning anything the next day. By thinking about what I needed first, and giving myself permission to take the time for me, I was able to go into the final day of the conference ready to learn.

It was on this final day, that I realized that I’m not the only one finding ways to self-regulate. The second session that I attended on Friday was about tech-enabled teacher leadership. As the presenter, Camille, had us orally share some ideas with the group, I looked up and noticed a fellow educator, Kristy, crocheting. Watching her crochet throughout the session, I realized that this was helping her stay calm, stay focused, and stay engaged in the learning. I later had lunch with Kristy, and she let me take this photograph and share it with others. 

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Our conversation with her over lunch made me even more aware that as adults, we all find ways to calm down during “stressful times.” 

  • We may choose to crochet.
  • We may choose to doodle.
  • We may choose to tweet (something that many people at this conference chose to do).
  • We may choose to catch Pokemon … of which, apparently, Niagara Falls is full of them. 
  • We may choose to journal or blog.
  • We may choose to fidget with our own adult fidget toys … which, as Kristy pointed out to me at lunch, was the toothpick that I broke apart in so many different ways.
  • We may choose to hum, to tap our foot or fingers, or to move back or forth in our seat. 
  • We may also choose to take a break or create our own mini-sessions, where we can enjoy some quiet conversation and maybe a little less cognitive strain.

Thinking back to previous years at this conference and other ones, I wonder how many times I was in a state of high energy and high tension, and if I ever tried to get myself back down again. Last night, I saw one of my favourite vlogs from Susan Hopkins at The MEHRIT Centre, and I realized how much I could relate to her thinking.

When you’re on this Self-Reg journey, it’s so hard not to see everything through a Self-Reg lens, and constantly reflect on how much more learning you have to do. As challenging as it can be at times, this conference was a good reminder for me, that to be at my best, I need to find some alone time. How do you take this time for you? What might be the benefits in doing so? May we all have those wonderful opportunities to learn, to engage, to socialize, and to take a break and self-regulate.

Aviva

Is It “Us” That Makes The Difference?

Today was an interesting day at school. My partner, Nayer, and I were both out for the morning to prepare a presentation for Monday’s Kindergarten Networking Session. We had two supplies in the room — one who’s our regular supply, and one who’s never been in the classroom before. At first nutrition break, we heard that the children were having a marvellous day (always a great report), and a similar message was communicated to us when we arrived back in the classroom at noon. 

Walking in the room though, we could tell that the children were getting very excited. 

  • The noise level was up.
  • There were materials everywhere.
  • Some students were starting to act silly.

Nayer was leaving for her lunch break, and that’s when I knew that we needed to go outside. This is usually our outdoor learning time, and the students were showing that they needed this outdoor environment. We cleaned up as quickly as we could, collected some items from the classroom together (paper, scissors, crayons, pencils, and blocks), and headed outside. 

Another teacher mentioned to me earlier in the day that she might be bringing her class outside as well. She also brought out materials from the classroom to use, and our children loved using her materials too. We don’t usually get a chance to play with this group of students, and we have some siblings between the two classes. The children were definitely excited about this new opportunity!

During nutrition break time, Nayer mentioned to me that the students continued to be very chatty and active, even when they got back inside (which isn’t usually the case), and she chose to do an activity with them together to help calm them down. We wonder now if the change in routine — with supplies this morning plus new children and new activities for outside time — kept the children “up” instead of bringing them “down.”

Then after this break, my prep coverage teacher thought that she would bring them outside for some different learning time. For part of this time though, two other Kindergarten classes are also outside. Our class never plays with these students because of opposite recess times, and the activities were different than our usual ones. While the children in the other classes loved this outdoor time, many of our students were reluctant to play, asked to go back inside, and stayed close to both educators instead of interacting with other students. I’m left wondering, “why?”

  • Could it be because we were already outside a lot today?
  • Could it be because this is different than our usual routine, and we didn’t prepare the children for a change in plans?
  • Could it be because the other children outside are not the ones that our children know and usually interact with at school?
  • Could it be because there were more children and more noise in the playground area? We usually have two classes outside together instead of three.

Maybe it was a combination of all of these reasons. Looking at the students’ actions though through the lens of “why” (with all of these different possibilities) makes the behaviour make a lot more sense.

I guess then, given all of these various factors, it’s not surprising that within minutes of the children arriving back from their outdoor time — about 15 minutes earlier than expected — they were noisy, silly, and incredibly excited. Both Nayer and I initially tried to go around and model the use of quiet voices. We sat down and played with them. We offered groups of students different challenges to provide that “intentional interruption” and change the focus of the play. Nothing worked though. That’s when Nayer and I started to talk, and she filled me in on the lunchtime excitement and the outdoor learning time issues. Now things were starting to make sense. What could we do though?

For a minute, I decided to pause. I stood there, and asked myself, “What helps bring these children down?” Dancing. I knew though that if we tried to clean up the classroom and call everyone to the carpet, it would be a struggle to make this quick transition and likely lead to more stress — for both the students and for us. That’s when I went over to the SMART Board, and pulled up the Just Dance Webmix that our children love. I picked The Gummy Bear Song — a favourite for many children — and turned it up just loud enough that at least a few students around the carpet area would hear it. 

The plan worked. Within a few seconds, a couple of students heard the song, saw the video, dropped their containers in the water bin, and said to each other, “Do you want to dance?” Dancing is contagious, and pretty soon, many students joined us on the carpet to dance. 

  • A few students still drew pictures.
  • A couple of students looked at books.
  • A couple more students continued playing in the water.

That was okay though. The children that needed to dance to calm down, joined us on the carpet, and they did start to calm down. The other children calmed down in different ways — through drawing, reading, and sensory experiences — and then Nayer worked with a few of them to tidy-up. 

The process was seamless. There were no more transitions — which in a day full of changes, would have likely led to more problems — and everybody went home happy: educators and students included. 

Reflecting at the end of the day though, I realized how many times I’ve reacted differently.

  • While I’ve gotten better at asking “why,” I usually do so after responding, instead of before responding.
  • In the midst of “super excited times,” I don’t always take the time needed to pause and problem solve. 
  • While I know that the same approach doesn’t work for everyone, I don’t always consider what that means when it comes to carpet gatherings. 

Today’s experience made me wonder if after “perfect endings” like today, we need to ask ourselves more, what did we do differently? Is it our actions that ultimately make the biggest difference for kids? This is an “uncomfortable” revelation for me, but one that I think is worth considering. What do you think?

Aviva

As part of my final project for Foundations 4, I am blogging about topics related to the four Foundations courses. While this post doesn’t use the terminology, there are links to self-regulation, co-regulation, up-regulation, down-regulation, dysregulation, invisible stressors, reframing behaviour, and leakage. I hope that these blog posts provoke more conversations around these important topics.