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Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Let's Talk About.......Math

Written by Shelly Read, Instructional Coach
Reflections from AAC Conference

While reading the newspaper last weekend I came across many references to math computation skills and the dropping test scores of Alberta students. The main concern identified was the lack of basic computation skills that students possess. While the articles made me shake my head more than once, let's be honest - teachers, parents and students have voiced similar concerns. A recent session I attended at the AAC Conference in Edmonton suggested a technique that teachers can use to help students strengthen their math skills and move towards automaticity and fluency.

Math Talks are frequent 10-15 minute lessons that help students build accurate mental math and computation strategies. Students are placed in small groups with a teacher to share problem solving methods, give one another feedback, and reflect on their own strategies. During Math Talks students do the thinking and the teacher listens, asks questions, and redirects as needed. While algorithms are useful strategies, pairing them with opportunities for small groups of students to talk about their successes and challenges improves overall understanding, so that the learning lasts. In schools where this ‘math community’ has been piloted teachers and students report higher levels of intellectual engagement.

In FSD I envision Math Talks being used to differentiate daily math lessons and as a powerful tool during RTI sessions. They allow students to apply the 7 mathematical processes, such as reasoning and communication, in a meaningful way. When designing lessons, these collaboration times can help students answer essential questions such as, “What is the most efficient strategy to use when solving a number operation question?”, “How can I best demonstrate my understanding of numbers?”,  and “What are the qualities of an effective strategy?”
For further information about Math Talks check out the AAC website; very soon a math strategies section will be added under the Professional Learning tab. You could also read Crystal Morey’s article, Making Sense of Math Through Number Talks. Two books on the subject are Making Number Talks Matter by Ruth Parker and Cathy Humphreys and Number Talks by Sherry Parrish.

I am excited to give this thinking routine a try! I look forward to seeing eyes light up and I never tire of hearing our students say, “This actually makes sense!”

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

"There Is No Such Thing As Laziness"

Written by Shanda Dupras, Instructional Coach
Reflections from Alberta Assessment Consortium Conference

As teachers, we’ve been guilty of saying it, uttering it, hearing it...or thinking it.  “That kid isn’t motivated, engaged and doesn’t do any work. They are lazy.”

After having the pleasure of listening to Rick Wormeli, an international speaker and veteran educator, speak at the ACC conference in Edmonton, it was his statement, “There is No Such Thing as Laziness,” that resonated deep within my teaching soul.

I’ve always believed that every student can be reached…it was my job to find it. Have I been frustrated with “THAT student” for being disengaged in class, handing in a less than adequate assignments or worse yet, nothing at all? Absolutely. The feeling overwhelms me as I burn the midnight oil marking. Finally, tiredness takes over, and the word, “lazy,’ slips from my lips, as my head falls towards my desk.

Rick Wormeli, teaches that, “There is no such thing as laziness.” As educators, we have ongoing discussions focused on how to engage and motivate students within our classrooms. Rick Wormeli states that there are three premises that educators must understand when “wanting” to motivate students.  In turn, the truth surfaces about what our job as educators must be.

The Three Premises
1)    We can control and coerce someone to do something, but we can’t motivate anyone to do anything they don’t already want to do. (Rick Wormeli)
2)    Motivation is only doing the best of our ability of what we are already capable of doing.
(Rick Lavoie)
3)    Motivation is not something we do to teachers or students, it is something we create with them. (Rick Wormeli) 

The Truth
Our focus is to create an environment that cultivates curiosity and personal investment, making sure students and teachers feel safe to engage in the activity or topic without fear of embarrassment or rejection. (Wormeli)
AND, we accept the fact that ‘there is no such thing as laziness.

To create lessons that awaken the wonder within our students must be always on the table. As teachers, we cannot be the only ones asking, the deeper ‘Why’ questions. (If we could bottle up all the ‘why’ questions that children ask at three years old---we would be golden. What makes them stop asking questions as they grow?) Students want the ability to choose the vehicle of how they are going to complete a task; the ownership.  They want to be challenged at just right the level and know that they can be successful. They want to wonder…

“When teachers create curiosity in their classrooms, kids start to wonder.
  When they wonder, they want to learn.”    (Wormeli)

Friday, 2 October 2015

Alberta Assessment Consortium Conference

Written By Denise Litke, Instructional Coach
September 24 and 25, 2015 - Edmonton

This past weekend I attended the AAC Conference in Edmonton. There the IC team was treated to two world renowned researchers and speakers - Ruth Sutton and Rick Wormeli.  
Ruth kicked off the conference Thursday with a presentation on School Leadership in Changing Times. The recurring theme I heard from Ruth was in order to get to where we want to be, we need to start with the foundations.  We can’t do everything and we can’t do it all at once, so we need to get down to the fundamentals of strong practice and do them well.  The fundamentals she spoke of were design and planning, curricular outcomes, assessment, feedback, engagement, and teachers as learners.  
Friday Rick Wormeli presented.  To me, Rick is a cross between Steve Martin, Jim Carey and Bill Nye the Science Guy.  He is a fast talking, fast moving ball of information, and if you have ever seen him, you’ll know exactly what I mean. Based on the premise that “Grades are communication - they are an accurate report of what happened.”, Wormeli  goes on to talk about how we need to be ethical in our reporting practices.  This includes stopping the practice of  averaging marks, defining mastery, having pre-assessments that relate to the final understandings,  giving feedback, allowing for redos, differentiating in our classrooms and being a responsive teacher.

Overall, I found the conference to be informative, engaging and I would highly recommend it all teachers in FSD.  Check out their website at www.aac.ab.ca