Insuring equity in a BYOD classroom | | Trusting student writing to authenticity | Why Do I Have to Learn History? | Inquiry Should be our Learning Heritage | Redoes are the Real World | Helping Students Listen With Intent | Independence Day | Teaching is Like No Other | Schooling vs Making | No trade for the logical | Finishing Lines | EdCamp | Take the Step Back | Thoughts on Critical Reflection

Insuring equity in a BYOD classroom

Posted on February 11, 2014 by Alan Stange

I noticed that the single Nexus 7 I have in my classroom for social networking has started to be much in demand. I bought it using Scholastic points (way over priced). It is dedicated to out classroom Google account and our Twitter connection to other fourth grade classes.

I want about two or three more now. We need devices like this to provide equity in the classroom. I have strongly encouraged BYOD. That is paying off, but there is so much stress on the school’s hardware that it has resulted in a decided advantage to students who have their own mobile device.

How is everyone else making the transition to BYOD as business as usual?

Trusting student writing to authenticity

Posted on April 3, 2014 by Alan Stange

Today in the morning I played minecraft on my computer. And I also found this strange sign in the middle of no where. And it said leave now and at the bottom of the sign it said HEROBRINE!!!!!!!! I was so freaked out the I saw the sign. Then when I went mining I found a tunnel with redstone torches. And so I went into the hole and found a nother sign saying you are trapped and now your dead. Luckily I dug my way out before the lava hit me. When I got out of the hole my house was destriod and I had to rebuild it. It took a while to build it because it was a MANSION!!!!!!! When I was done building it took an hour, I went to find a jungle temple and a desert temple It took a while to find the temples. But I found the temples and in the jungle temple there was a tesla. A tesla is a gun that shoots out lightening. In the desert temple there was lots of diamonds I was rich but then herobrine killed me and that was then end of me!!! Should I get revenge on him or should I forget about everything and just roll with it?????
On the week end i was playing minecraft on the xbox360 and i was minning and i got pushed into a revine by hero brine. There were no monsters around me beacuse i checked around me and it was way way farther than a zombie or skeliton or a creeper. So i tried to get my stuff but herobrine pushed me down again. I rage quited after that. Do guys have any ideas of what to do about herobrine in my world? S
This is my book I got from the library and it is called Haunted.It is about good spirits that come from the dead but there is also a girl named Dee and she has to find a murdurer that she finds out later is her long lost father.There is a person she falls in love with but later she finds out he is a ghost so they can’t be together.Have you ever read a ghost book?You should read a ghost book book because they are really fun to read.

My fourth grade students post on Edmodo for a variety of reasons. Often enough, I dictate a writing topic to them. Many handle that well. A few rely on the prompts. I am interested in the students who struggle with my prompts, yet produce proficient paragraphs on topics they have an interest in.

We all knew it would be this way, yet I persist in structuring the conversation and neglecting to assess the independent samples of their writing. Sadly, my students rarely ask me to consider these writing pieces. Too often, students discriminate between teacher-directed learning and student-directed learning. Last month a student remarked they liked inquiry projects better than school work. We created this false distinction. I need to work harder to eliminate it.

Why Do I Have to Learn History?

Posted on April 15, 2014 by Alan Stange

Funny how a little question, only seven words long, can throw one for a loop. I had a student ask me that question an hour ago and I am still reeling from it. I’m reeling because I can’t verbalize an answer. William Chamberlain

I articulated an answer to this question years ago. I’m not sure I can reconstruct it adequately, but I will give it a go. We need history (and the other social sciences) because each of us needs to create a personal sense of location.

History adds a fourth dimension to location and we rely upon that. Historical context is augmented reality. The same young people who might question the point of learning a national or cultural history would not question the importance of their own personal history. At some level, they know they tap their past experience to their understand themselves, their actions or values. The trick is to get them to see that their personal geography, where they are in the world, and how this can change, is caught up in the history of their larger culture.

History enhances our perceptions much like colour enhances our visual experience. I talk to my students about how the school they live in is imbued with significant memories. Their home, for instance, is not simply a new location every time it is experienced. It is filled with reminders of past experience that shape who they are. So too are the people they interact with. This may not be acknowledged by the unreflective, but it is inescapable influence on us all. Does that make sense?

Inquiry Should be our Learning Heritage

Posted on April 27, 2014 by Alan Stange

IMG_1430small.jpgLast week I wrapped up our schools Heritage Fair season by supervising 17 students from my school attending the regional fair. As I’ve written on previous posts, I am not a fan of competitive learning. Nonetheless it was a wonderful experience for my students. The awards and rankings might mean a good deal to some of my students, if not all, but for me the value is in the process of inquiry on a topic of your own choosing.

When the project work was done at our school, one of my students confided to a peer that she was sorry that the heritage fair was over because she liked it better than doing schoolwork. That was a sad, but telling remark. The idea that inquiry and publishing on a subject of your own choosing was not schoolwork rankles. There are certainly times when we need to learn through direct instruction. They’re often times for practice and repetition, but surely the most important kind of learning is self directed inquiry with a teacher or fellow classmate as mentor.

As best I can, I develop skills in inquiry, in readiness for the heritage fair project after Christmas. After the heritage fair projects are done, I continue to reinforce these skills with the students all the way until June. Our school does heritage fair from grades 4 to 8. Some teachers would like to reduce the repetitiveness of the heritage fair by limiting the number of years that we participate. I need to be cautious about my objection to this. While I do think that studying Canadian history and culture is extremely important for students in our country, I do feel that the heritage fair is not the only way in which students can explore citizenship, history, and culture. I do take exception to the idea that inquiry takes too much time from the school year. Project-based learning follows the steps we all need to teach our students to become independent learners. The reality is, that what we don’t have time for is “schoolwork “. What we need to have time for is project-based learning.

Redoes are the Real World

Posted on May 9, 2014 by Alan Stange

I often hear my colleagues argue that report cards should indicate how long mastery took, or how many attempts were necessary. I’m tired of arguing with them. Every enterprise from medicine to carpentry strives for success on the first attempt, but achieving this is an illusion. My wife and I have been watching House reruns on Netflix. I was struck by the show’s formula. Each case is a mystery with misunderstandings and failed diagnoses. Dramatic license aside, this is exactly the way it would be.

Helping Students Listen With Intent

Posted on May 25, 2014 by Alan Stange

Listening with intent:

Listening with intent, or listening with active attention to meeting, is at the heart of purposeful talk. “Hearing is a sound; listening is a thought.” (Michael Opitz and Matthew Zbaracki 2004) listening with intent involves letting the idea of being heard into our brain, and actually engaging with it. We form, reverse, and strengthen our own thinking as we wait our turn to share, and do so with such deliberateness that, while we may hear others speaking, we don’t truly listen to their message. (Page 42) When somebody starts speaking, hands must go down. Students need to “park” their thinking, and focus on the idea of being shared. Some forget their thoughts, but the process of listening with the intent is more important. Over time, students become stronger at holding their thoughts. (Page 42)

Teachers should stop repeating and refining what students say in class. This habit discourages students from listening to each other. Another problem with this is that conversation moves between student and teacher back-and-forth. Conversation needs to move between student and student. Students need to ask for their own clarification and not rely upon the teacher. [my emphasis]

“To truly want to listen to each other, children must also value each other intellectually. Pointing out individual students contributions helps to build an identity of intelligence.” ( page 43) along with valuing each other’s thinking, the teacher should summarize the conversation and point out how each person helped create a collaborative meaning.

Getting lines of thinking alive:

Students need to stay focused on the thread of an idea. They just can’t support the pursuit of an idea in depth. Nichols suggests a talk chart. What are you doing as a listener, thinker and talker?(page 43):
  • Agreeing
  • disagreeing
  • adding onto an idea
  • clarifying meaning return

I have been reading M. Nichols book for the last month. Reading is our school goal and reflecting on student discussion connects with me. Step into my fourth grade classroom and the dominance of the rectangle of desks (the circle, so to speak) signals my interest in using discussion for connected learning. Much of what Nichols has been saying should not be new to me, yet I find I have abandoned some good practices I learned over the years. Reading her ideas recalls them.

I am embarrassed to admit that I have fallen into the mistake of habitually repeating and refining my student’s thoughts. After reading this chapter, I consciously restrained my impulse and practiced her suggestions for opening lines of thinking. The impact on my class discussions these last few days was noticeable. At this point, many students struggle to follow the conversation. It was an exercise in patience for me too. Never-the-less during our first serious attempt at listening and responding, I was able to see the shift to collective construction. Students built on each other’s ideas.

I was very much at the center of the discussion though. I realize that discussion is not a well established routine in my classroom. We are a room of talkers, not listeners.

“Allowing children to simply share their own thinking without any accountability to each other’s thinking or purpose will not enable construction of meaning to new levels.” (page 41)

We need to consistently refocus and remind children of our purpose for talk. Gradually we can eliminate random comments that hijack conversation. I need to practice this as much as the students.

Independence Day

Posted on July 4, 2014 by Alan Stange

July 1st was Canada Day, while the celebrations here and in the United States are much the same, the events were quite different… yet not entirely so. They were both expressions of democratic action. In both countries, independence was achieved through responsibly elected legislative bodies. The principal of responsible government lay at the core of both movements.

This is the moment when I reflect on my own American heritage. Born to American expatriates in Asia, I only lived briefly in the United States – seven years. I took Canadian citizenship at the age of twenty-two, I believe. I have never seriously regretted that decision. Citizenship is commitment to the polity. I liked Canada’s Just Society and Saskatchewan’s social democratic government in the late 1970’s and I wanted to be part of that.

Being an expatriate (even a little one), affords you the opportunity to take a more critical look at your nation. There are different filters at play. I was reminded of that this morning when I read an article warning us that our North American perspective on events in the Ukraine are almost completely slanted toward Kiev. There is little balance to reporting from there. The struggle for each responsible citizen is to be informed. I had seven years to reflect on Canadian and American culture before I made my decision. It involved a lot of letting go.

Expatriates might question their nations when faced with challenging perspectives in the countries they inhabit, but we are also a stubborn lot. I resisted observing rituals like singing God Save the Queen as a school boy in Hong Kong. The HMS Ark Royal (R09) was a shabby old scow contrasted to the might of the USS Bon Homme Richard (CV/CVA-31) to my eight-year-old self when I visited both. I was a proud American.

Canada made the decision rather easy. Like the United States, it reflects Britain’s Parliamentary tradition and history of law. Honestly, all I had to do was come to terms with being a subject of the Crown and no longer being labeled American. Over time, I have learned there are many paths to democracy. As an adult, I recognized that patriotism should not be automatic, it is earned by the collective action of a nation. God does not grace a nation, nor does it have a manifest destiny. We have to build the nation we want to be proud of.

The United States following independence was not the nation that exists today. American’s created that. First the Constitution, then the Bill of Rights, followed by so much more. Nations evolve (and unfortunately devolve) over time. The United States is a good country to claim as an origin, and I am thankful is is my neighbour.

Teaching is Like No Other

Posted on July 7, 2014 by Alan Stange

I just stopped in to the school to pick up a few items I needed for planning. I tried to anticipate the documents and resources I would need, but inexplicably forgot my tentative class list for September. History shows the names will not change much, so it is fairly reliable. One of my tasks is to create usernames and accounts on various sites we use in our learning. The list missed getting stuffed into the black bag I lugged home June 27th. As I wandered the disrupted hallways I reflected a bit on being a teacher. We are often compared to other professions (and jobs), particularly when we negotiate contracts. Sometimes the comparisons seem to fit, often our protests to the contrary are met with incomprehension or derision. It is hard to quantify our working conditions, all the more because we are an idiosyncratic bunch.

Comparisons between teachers are tricky. This makes glib suggestions like merit pay problematic. We all work in different ways. Throughout the year, I notice colleagues arriving and departing earlier and later than myself. As I come in to the school or leave, someone is usually coaching a practice in the gym. Occasionally it is me in the gym or library. Habitually, three of my grade team members are settling into long preparation and marking sessions as I leave for the day. Some teachers carry crippling loads of exercise books home to mark in the evenings, while I walk out with my iPad. We all have our own work flow.

It would have surprised me to bump into a colleague this morning. At this point, like-minded colleagues are slipping in and out to grab something at odd moments. I have colleagues, perhaps the ones carting marking home on the weekends, who think me insane to putter at my desk organizing the next year six weeks before school begins. I will be back for a few days to reconstruct my classroom – likely as soon as I discover they have finished cleaning it. Others will show up the morning they are required to return. I have no way of quantifying our preparation for the new year. Each, in our own way, will have done the job. This must drive bean counters up the wall.

I have no idea how long I am going to work on preparing fifth grade curriculum this summer. I could keep a record, but what would be the point? I probably plan, organize, network, research, and create just for my own peace of mind. The time preparing sets my mind at ease so that when my family is free, or my mind turns to other activities, I am ready. Alles ist in Ordnung, my German heritage whispers. I’ve got to tell you, the state of my classroom right now is driving me crazy. I wonder if they need help waxing?

Schooling vs Making

Posted on August 4, 2014 by Alan Stange

20170531_124942small.jpgThe term making has just burst into my awareness in the last year. It doesn’t seem to be a remarkably new concept, but it is one I think that is been largely overlooked in my classroom over the years. I have placed far too much emphasis on traditional modes of consumption and publication and far too little time on allowing students to guide both. I have always valued art and inquiry learning in my classroom. Like many I became preoccupied with delivering curriculum to students and less aware of the need to take time for students to create.

No trade for the logical

Posted on August 18, 2014 by Alan Stange

That was an additional bit of data in the problem of the morrow which was not yet fully revealed to him. War was I was unlike spherical trigonometry as anything could be, thought Hornblower, grinning at the inconsequence of his thoughts. Often one approach the problem in war without knowing what it was one wanted to achieve, to prove or construct, and without even knowing fully what means were available for doing it. War was generally a matter of slipshod, makeshift, hit or miss extemporisation. Even if it were not murderous and wasteful it would still be no trade for a man who enjoyed logic. (C.S. Forester, Lord Hornblower 1946)

This afternoon I’ve been sitting quietly in my backyard enjoying my final week of vacation. Rather then work my way through a television series on Netflix, I chose to really experience CS Forrester’s Hornblower series, something I enjoyed as a adolescent and one of my first serious purchases as an adult.

The quote above resonates with my feelings about teaching. I’ve spoken elsewhere about the connoisseurship involved in being a teacher. I’ve loved my involvement with social media and conversations with colleagues in the staff room. But I am often oppressed by the need to explain myself as a teacher. There are skills to acquire and knowledge to master in order to become a successful teacher. But it might also be said that there is so much that is situational in teaching, so many variables to attend to, that planning creates an understandable tension between anticipated results and the inevitability of disappointment.

I reject the metaphor that teaching in a public school is like going to war. It is poisonous to view the dynamic of learning as a conflict between individuals. But the real illogic is imagining that you can create a stable system for learning. Like Hornblower’s description of war, education is an extreme problem. Both the goals and the means are not as clearly realized as we would like. We endlessly remind ourselves, and anyone who will listen, that schools are not factories; and yet we cherish some dream that, in fact, we can create a successful, human factory for children. In something more than a week, I will be plunged back into discourse on reliable data about teaching strategies. I’m afraid it’s probably just a dream.

Finishing Lines

Posted on September 13, 2014 by Alan Stange

I hated track and field competition when I was a child in school. It was not an activity in which I was particularly successful, if by success you mean winning, or even being average. I did not run proficiently in the time specified. This morning, my mind turned to a number of my fourth and fifth grade students. They were struggling with representing a number with base ten blocks. My inner voice was warning me to be prepared for poor results on the post assessment. They were adequate at the moment (getting it with coaching), and experience warned me that might be where they remained. I hate that whisper in my head.

They really liked working with me. They were moving forward without stress. It was so wrong to judge them against the curriculum outcome. I know they will cross the finishing line set by the Saskatchewan Ministry of Education. I need to respect they are motivated to learn. Stupid clocks and calendars.


Posted on October 26, 2014 by Alan Stange

Saturday I attended my first on line EdCamp at the suggestion of Kelly Christopherson made during this last week’s #saskedchat on Twitter. I had a good time, despite feeling guilty about ignoring my wife for a few hours during our coffee hour. My conversation on the Maker mindset was helpful. I came away with some ideas to try in my classroom. My curiosity was satisfied about the EdCamp format, and I would like to do it again on line, but also attend an EdCamp somewhere here in Saskatchewan.

As we talked about Maker Stations I arrived at the conclusion that my assumptions about implementation were different from those of the people leading the conversation. My making/20% genius hour hacks into the Saskatchewan curriculum in multiple places, and it is classroom based. The students in my class are doing it on their own with my assistance. I was hearing discussion from other participants about strategies for getting administrative support for school and district programs. They were excited about their progress with this. I had the impression that they were under great pressure to align student projects to curriculum to justify their programs. It felt like a very different plan. My take away from the conversation was to invite parents into Making and start offering students some focus questions based on our curriculum. Damn, I’ve forgotten the term they shared. It might take the form of a wonder wall, where students pose questions or challenges.

The EdCamp format was comfortable and democratic. There were initially two windows to attend to. The first was the conference home page with chat stream and a shared Hangout where the organizers could introduce and moderate the conference. The second window was a space for proposing and voting on discussion topics. The moderators created Google Hangouts for topics generating sufficient interest. We joined the group we wanted, and then chatted and shared. The EdCamp closed with a return to the the larger group.

I would like to attend a live EdCamp and see how that works. It seems a democratic form of professional development. There are times when professional development needs to be planned in advance, but so often, we fail to anticipate the real or emergent needs of teachers.

Take the Step Back

Posted on November 23, 2014 by Alan Stange

This last week was student led conferences. Better than half my teaching career these biannual meetings were parent teacher interviews. The parents and I had some great exchanges. Some were even candid. Even then it often felt like the student aught to have been there. Remember, we invited the students into the room, but largely to listen. It has taken me decades to transform my conferences into genuine conferences led by the students. I must be an old dog. When my students get to the point where they ask, “Do you have any questions?” I assume this is the moment parents start grilling me. Indeed, this is what usually happens because they are old dogs too it seems. A couple this week addressed their questions to the students. It was salutary for me. I won’t forget those interviews. The parents kept their children at the centre of the conversation, responding to their brief presentations. Student led conferences need to work because our students have things to tell us.

The student pictured above surprised me during the conference. Each week during genius hour she was absorbed in creating the model she is proudly explaining to her parents. I might have talked more with her during the last month. She shared her thinking with my intern. I guess that is one outcome of stepping back during the intensive three week break. Sometime during the last month her maker project took on greater meaning to her. She used it to work through her thoughts on materialism and where contentment comes from. She explained this to us from notes she had developed. Genius Hour worked.

Genius Hour is not working well for many of my students. It is too new for all of us. As much as they all love the activity, most don’t know how to focus on a question they genuinely care about. I have not yet developed the strategies that will guide them. We will keep at it. I celebrate the moments when my students find a way to tell me it’s okay to step back and let them guide their own learning.

Thoughts on Critical Reflection

Posted on December 4, 2014 by Alan Stange

Six What If Questions That Great Teachers Ask Everyday

If you’re a teacher and you’re not questioning your methods daily, you might want to consider another profession. Great teachers always think they can do more for students. Outstanding teachers feel like they can be better. The best teachers ask themselves questions every day that begin with, “What if?”

1-What if my homework assignments are a waste of time?
2-What if my students use mobile devices?
3-What if my planned class activity is boring?
4-What if my room is noisy and chaotic?
5-What if I don’t grade this?
6-What if the Common Core is just another bad idea concocted by bureaucrats?

I came across this this morning as I was waiting for my coffee to be finished running through the coffee maker. This week I sat down with my young colleague, and intern to complete her evaluation for the University. I dreaded doing it but I think we had a good conversation. Underlying the conversation was my conviction that I could not adequately do her justice on the check list provided by the University. She even express this thought herself as we work through each item together. While all good teachers constantly evaluate themselves, and ask themselves similar what if questions to the ones posed above, the fifth question really strikes home.

One question I would like to add to his list is “What if I am doing harm?” Another question that we have been encouraged to pose to ourselves is, “Whose interests does this serve?” Good people with power should live in the tension between empowering conviction and paralyzing doubt about their actions.