Friday, February 24, 2017

Personalized Learning: An Observer's Perspective

Last Friday I had a great opportunity to visit two schools in the Eastern Carver County School District in Chaska, MN.  We went to visit the district because they are using personalized learning throughout the district, with various schools and teachers at different places in their journey to personalized learning.

We started the day at Pioneer Ridge Middle School (PRMS), where one of our awesome Mathematics alumni, Andy Ott, is teaching!  I have to admit that I was as excited to see Andy as I was to view personalized learning.  While the math courses are not part of the Adventurer track in PRMS, Andy and his math colleagues do personalized learning within their classrooms.  The three content areas that are the focus of the Adventurer track at PRMS are Language Arts, Social Studies, and Science.  At the beginning of the day, students select which of these content areas they will learn during four periods of the day.  Students are to make choices based on the question: “What is best for my learning?” These students attend their other courses during the remaining three periods of the day.

How are 11, 12, and 13 year olds able to answer the question, “What is best for my learning?”  It takes time for 6th graders to figure this out, but by the time they are 8th graders they certainly are better at answering the question.  The 6th graders that talked with us said that it took them 1 to 2 months to figure out that they shouldn’t choose the learning path based on what their friends were doing.  The administration agreed that by November of the school year, most of the Adventurers had been trained to make good choices for their learning.

PRMS has another track for students called the Explorer track. This track is similar to a traditional middle school, where students have the same schedule each day, but many of the teachers offer personalized learning in their classrooms.  One of the group asked if students switched between tracks during the year, but it doesn’t seem possible to make that switch. Any switch from Explorer to Adventurer would take place during the summer.  In addition, they have orientation programs for parents so parents are very aware of the responsibility that is being placed on their child.

I think the one thing that impressed me the most was the student panel.  All four students were on the Adventurer track and the maturity they showed was remarkable. They were all very clearly articulate, intelligent, and good time managers.  The thought that kept going through my head was: “these kids are going to be great college students.”  One of the things that freshmen in college struggle with the most is their freedom of time.  These students have experienced this freedom for many years so they won’t have this issue when they go to college.

We also visited Chanhassen High School, where we learned more about the district’s philosophy on personalized learning and we toured the school.  We didn’t really get to experience the personalization as much as we did in the PRMS. I think we all wanted more time to actually be in their classrooms—but there is only so much you can do in one day.

For me, what was most impressive was that the entire district has embraced personalized learning and that the administration and teachers have worked together to make this experience the best for all of their students.  They said that they have made mistakes along their journey, but they learned from these mistakes and moved on.  This is the exact philosophy that we want our students to embrace and this entire district is operating under that philosophy.

The district has been creative in reallocating resources and providing teachers with collaboration time and professional development so that they can be the best at personalized learning.  They have developed a star (pictured below) that represents what exceptional personalized learning looks like in their district.  

Prior to this visit, I was in favor of personalized learning and thought that many students would thrive in this type environment.  Now I am even more intrigued by personalized learning as both an educator and parent.  It was a privilege to visit this district and see what they have done to make personalized learning the “center of their circle.” They embraced the idea, researched what they needed to do, and jumped in with both feet!

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Why do you want to be a math teacher?

Each fall I teach the mathematics (education) course, Geometry for Teachers. For students in our secondary certification program, this is usually the first mathematics education course that they take.  On the first day of class every fall semester, I assign their first journal entry, which asks them to respond to the question, “Why do you want to be a math teacher?”

Their responses are always the highlight of that first week of classes as I feel like I get to know each of them better and I get hope for our future.  Below I have created a “top ten” list from their most common reasons.
Top Ten Reasons #Math261 Students want to be a Math Teacher
1.    Be a role model for students and help them become better people.
2.    Help people succeed.
3.    Carry on my love of math to others.
4.    Challenge my students.
5.    Make math interesting.
6.    Had a positive math experience in high school and want other students to have that same opportunity.
7.    Get to work with kids of all ages every day.
8.    Be a part of improving education.
9.    Help build students’ confidence in their ability to do mathematics.
10. Change society’s attitude towards mathematics.

I also wanted to share some specific quotes from their responses that stood out to me.
·         “I had never thought that my sharing knowledge and understanding of math could change a student’s life so much.”
·         “All in all, I want to be a math teacher because I love math and teaching is the best way in which I feel I could use utilize my strengths to make a significant contribution to society.”
·         “I want to teach students how to problem solve so that no matter what career they choose, they can use the skills that were developed in my classroom.”
·         “My goal is to find a way to challenge my students, make the subject understandable, present the topic with useful everyday occurrences, and, most importantly, make math interesting.”

And now you know why I get hope when I read these. These young people are altruistic and passionate about their career choice.  They have a true love for mathematics and want to share that with others.  Even though I am the “teacher” of this course, I know that I am going to learn a lot from them!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Twitter has made me a Better Teacher

Yesterday I was able to attend the #TIE16 conference in Sioux Falls with nine pre-service math teachers.  The highlight of the day for me was to hear George Couros talk with us about having an innovator’s mindset, and then having him sign my copy of his book!  During his talk, he brought up using Twitter and convinced some of the teachers in the room to start using it.  Then in the afternoon, Couros did a talk on your digital footprint.  During the second presentation, he talked about things we should do on Twitter (use your real name for your handle, put up a profile picture, have a public profile, and include a professional description of yourself) and things we should not do (have an obscure handle, leave the egghead for your profile pic, and not give people an idea of who you are).

I already knew many of the things that Couros mentioned in his digital footprint talk, but it made me think a lot about what Twitter has done for me.
Twitter has:
·         Connected me with other educators across the world, including Couros;
·         Allowed me to stay up to date on the latest news in mathematics education;
·         Kept me informed on the latest technology in education;
·         Helped me find speakers for the science and math teacher conference I host each summer: and
·         Facilitated increasing my involvement in mathematics education through connecting with others in #MTBoS;
All of these things make me a better mathematics educator.  I utilize Twitter to learn mathematics and technology, which I then share with my students.  My courses change constantly because of Twitter, but they are changing for the better.

One thing that stood out to me at the conference was that I think I am delivering a good math technology course to my students. They were informed of many of the technologies that were shared at the conference. As pre-service teachers, they may have more knowledge of technology than some in-service teachers.

This blog post is dedicated to all of my Tweeps who have helped me grow, learn, and share on Twitter. I am better because of all of you!