Inspirational colleagues? Wow…

OK, so I’m not really doing the full blog challenge – This weekend was nutso and blogging everyday is really tough – enough with the excuses.  But this question, “Who was or is your most inspirational colleague and why?” just really struck me at my core.  There have been so many, probably for all of us in education, it would be extremely difficult to pinpoint just one who was MOST inspirational.  I continue to be inspired rather regularly by my past professor (now friend) Carol Rodgers (SUNY) who is just one of the most amazing writers, Dewey Scholars and researchers and reflective practice I have ever met.  She is an amazing teacher mentor and has taught me a great deal. Ron Lancaster (OISE – Toronto) continues to show me how to be a true teacher of teachers every time I see him.  Nils Ahbel (Deerfield) and Maria Hernandez (NCSSM) and two of the most passionate mathematics educators I have ever met and every time I speak with them about my practice, I learn something new – period.  If you all ever get a chance to hear any of them speak, I highly recommend it.

I’ve already written about my inspiration and admiration for Rick Parris and the amazing life he led as a an educator, so I won’t go into that again, but I do feel that if I had to name someone who was not only inspiring, a major role model, caring, patient and kind, and truly changed my life, it would have to be Anja Greer.  If there is anyone to whom I have to attribute my work and lifelong love of teaching mathematics with problem-based learning, it would be Anja, mostly because I would not have had the opportunities and the courage to have taken the risks and to work with people who intimidated the heck out of me when I was only 26 years old.  She was a woman at school that had a very male-dominated history and she always spoke up for the students that were underserved and underrepresented.  She gave of herself in every way and gave me a job opportunity in 1996 that changed my life.

In the classroom, she was a teacher, mentor, innovator and amazing administrator.  To watch her handle a room full of very opinionated and argumentative mathematics faculty was amazing – never losing her grace and determination.  She took her time finding the words that she wanted to say and to this day, when I feel that I am pressured to quickly say something I think of her, take a breath, and rethink my words in my head.

The day I met Anja she frankly explained that she had to put a wig on in order to take me to campus because the students hadn’t seen her with her hair so short.  You see, she was battling cancer at the time that she was serving as department chair, implementing a new curriculum and hiring 4 new teachers that year.  The courage she had to “put on that wig” and move through her days for the next few years inspired me so much.  My son was born the year she lost her battle to cancer and she still had the compassion to let me know how happy she was for me that January.

I am so grateful for Anja’s influence on my life and I continue, in her memory, to teach annually at the conference that was named for her.  If I can even remotely come close to influencing another teacher in the way she has for me, I will have just started to repay her.

Blog Challenge Day 3: Do I really practice what I preach?

So the question for today is “Discuss one observation “area” that you would like to improve upon for your teacher evaluation.”  This is a tough one for me because as a teacher at an independent school formal evaluations are done in the second and sixth years so I don’t have formal evaluation “areas” per se.  Last year, I had a colleague sit in on my classes and give me feedback over a month’s period  and it was extremely helpful to have his perspective.  I also have many teachers come from other school at different points in the year in order to learn about problem-based learning, so I am used to having people in my classroom, but I haven’t really asked for feedback in one particular area in very long time.

However, I do believe that something I wonder about when I speak to teachers learning about PBL is how well I really facilitate PBL discussions.  I know what I’m supposed to do but the time constraints and the issues of adolescent life often keep me from being the best I can be.   I know I can be hard on myself, but if I had an expert in questioning, wait time, reactions to statements, inquiry and scaffolding who could come in and watch me teach for a week or so, that would probably be the best thing for me right now.  It would be so helpful.  So if anyone is willing…please get in touch!

Blog challenge Day2: New Technology for Collaboration in PBL

For the past two years, I have been lucky enough (or unlucky if you are less inclined to use technology) to have classroom sets of iPads for my geometry classes and have been able to experiment pretty easily with some different ways of teaching – collecting homework electronically (that was a fail), using Geogebra and Notability to get some really nice diagrams (that was pretty great!) and working with Voicethread to have students collaborate at home during homework. I gave a CwiC session talk last year at the Anja S. Greer conference on my use of Voicethread as a means of collaboration in problem solving and it went over really well. Here’s an example of how students used it:

So since I felt like that was so helpful as a discussion forum in the evenings (and also allowed more time in class for discussion the next day), I wanted to find other apps that might be just as helpful.  One of the things kids didn’t like about Voicethread was that it forced asynchronicity – there was no way to talk to someone online.  In fact, what sometimes happened was that a student would post a question and no one would respond until maybe 11 pm, and then by that time they might’ve gone to bed or moved onto their French homework or something.  Bummer.

So now this year I’m going to try a new app called Talkboard.  This is a really cool app that allows a student to send an IM or email to another student (or more than one) and then have a conversation (with voice) while also seeing writing and drawing real-time.  These synchronous discussion are kept in “projects” that can be saved and even exported as a pdf (without sound sadly) but there can be a record of their ideas.  Students can come to class the next day with some work on the iPad that contains the ideas they had for the problem solving process.  You can keep adding pages to the project and you can also import pictures – like graphs and diagrams from geogebra or desmos.  So I’m pretty pumped to try this out.

If anyone has used this app and has some experience with it, I’d love to hear about it!  Thanks so much!  …and happy experimenting!

TeachThought Blogging Challenge Day1: Goals for this Year

 OK, so I’ve decided to try to blog more this coming year (like I don’t have anything else to do working at a boarding school) and I happened to run across the TeachThought Blogging Challenge the other day, so I thought I would try to see how many of the 30 days, I might be able to actually write something that was worthwhile.
 I even downloaded a new app for my iPad to make blogging easier (we’ll see if that prediction comes true or not) called BlogPress which had some really nice reviews. (Using it right now, with a little help from my java programming husband).
 So Day 1 assignment is to “Write your goals for the school year. Be as specific or abstract as you’d like to be.” This is quite an overwhelming task honestly, there are often so many of them. So after some thought I came up with three and here they are:
 1. I am mentoring a teaching fellow in my department this year and so one of my goals this year is to be a good mentor. I know that’s pretty abstract but when you have another teacher’s success or failure connected to how well you discuss teaching, mathematics and learning with that person I find the overall goal pretty important. Mentoring someone in PBL is even trickier if it’s their first time teaching and they haven’t actually seen it in action yet. From doing this in the past, I know I also have to find ways to allow young teachers to express their hesitation and doubts with this method of teaching, so being aware of the discussion and keeping the dialogue open will parts of being a good mentor.
 2. My second goal is to work on assessing student learning through listening. One of the biggest issues I am grappling with in the classroom and have thought about a great deal in PBL, is how well students can learn from each other by listening to discussion. In fact, I know that one of the biggest arguments that “doubters” have with PBL is that if students are not just told what the important facts are and given clear instruction (what to learn when) learning can’t happen. I want to find ways in which to assess how well students are learning through dialogue. This was inspired when I heard a talk a year or so ago by Karl Kosko (Kent State University) about a study he did related to student listening and their learning. If I remember correctly there was a direct relationship between how well a student could articulate their ideas during a conversation and how well they listened. (So talking and listening are connected.)
 3. My third goal is to think about the connections between PBL and grit or self-efficacy. I gave a lot of thought this summer to the differences between grit and self-efficacy and I think one of the best differences I found was tweeted by a guy named Duane Sharrock (@DuaneSharrock) when he responded to request for any distinctions that people had in a tweet I put out there. He said:

So in my mind it seems like Self-Efficacy has more to do with confidence and self-attribution of skills and Grit might have more to do with persistence and determination. I am actually interested in both with respect to what PBL fosters in students. To that end, I am going to do a lot of reading and research to see what’s out there and would love to hear from any readers if you have thoughts or experiences with this.
 There are my three main goals for the year. My classes start on Friday, but tomorrow they all arrive – wish me luck! Good luck to all of you out there!