Handicap Ramps: Connecting Ideas and Experiences to PBL – apply what you learn

I don’t often have the question “When are we going to use this?” launched at me.  Sometimes I wonder why?  Why aren’t my learners asking this question?  I often ask myself “When are they ever going to use this really?” when teaching Algebra I.  How can I better show our learners that algebra is used for many real purposes, not just on a test?

On September 14, 2010, I had the privilege of attending TEDxAtl where I heard Logan Smalley talk about creating a movement with Movement Turned Movie.  Logan introduced us to Darius Weems and his story Darius Goes West.  In the spring, Darius joined our 8th graders for their retreat – an amazing experience for all.

On July 19, we will host approximately 170 teachers from nine different states for a summer learning experience.  We’ve done this summer camp for teachers for several years.  Each year there is a teacher or two who will struggle to navigate our campus.  There are stairs everywhere.  We do have elevators, but they are not always in the most convenient places.

In Synergy, we problem-find and attempt to problem-solve based on observations of our environment and community.  Logan’s advocacy for wheelchair accessible spaces combined with accommodating teacher-learners with mobility problems has caused me to want to learn more about our campus and the ease of access to our spaces.

Where are our ramps and elevators?  What are the requirements and specifications for these ramps?  Are the requirements based on the angle of elevation or the ratio of the length of the ramp to the height of the ramp?  Is the angle of elevation connected to the ratio of length to height?  Isn’t this rise over run?

What can be learned by investigating the ramps on our campus? Does our learning have to be restricted to our campus?

  • Algebra?  (I think there must be slope, geometry, and right triangle trig at a minimum.)
  • Science? (I think mechanical advantage might come in to play here.)
  • Writing workshop?  (Do we need more ramps? Are there areas where a ramp is needed? How can we advocate for others?)
  • History?  (When and why did the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) become law?)
Here is a photo we took today at the entrance to Pressley where most of us enter to go to the dining hall.  If you look closely, you will see a meter stick on the ground near AS’s feet.  
 
In the latest version of the TI-Nspire CX operating system you can analyze a digital photograph.  It is a great way to use ratios and proportions along with unit conversion.  Can you predict how tall AS is based on the measurements and the scale?  (I was less than an inch off.)  Does our ramp fall within the ADA’s specifications?  
 
Let’s make sure the variables and measurements are defined clearly.  m=3.83 cm is the measurement of the meter stick on the screen of the Nspire.  rl=23.3 cm and rh=1.91 cm are the screen measurements for the ramp length and the ramp height, respectively.  ah=4.64 cm corresponds to AS’s height on the screen. 
 
 
Can you think of ways to use your environment to teach?  We should not be restricting learning to the four walls of our classrooms.  Can we find ways to show our young learners how their learning connects to their community and beyond?

TI-Nspire Summer Learning Opportunities

This summer we are so excited to host approximately 170 math and science teachers from nine states for three days of TI-Nspire workshops.  We will use the TI-Nspire CX and/or TI-Nspire CAS CX as the learning tool to investigate topics in middle grades math, algebra, high school math, and topics for connecting math and science.  Each participant will leave with ideas to energize their classroom and their very own TI-Nspire CX or TI-Nspire CX CAS handheld and TI-Nspire Teacher Software.

We are offering five different courses and have filled eight sections with a waiting list that we hope to clear this week.  The courses offered and our all-star facilitators are:

Here’s the email sent to our participants:

We are looking forward to seeing you July 19th for the Nspire Training in Atlanta, GA held in the Junior High of The Westminster Schools.  The school address is 1424 West Paces Ferry Rd NW, Atlanta, GA 30327.  Classes will begin at 8:30 a.m. in the classrooms.  Your classroom location will be posted in the hallway as you enter the building.

If possible, please bring your laptop.  If you have administrative rights to your computer, we want you to install the TI-Nspire software and use it.  We want to help you be ready to use both the handheld and the software when school starts. Please feel free to call if you need help or have any questions.

The course hours are 8:30 a.m. -3:30 p.m. Tuesday – Thursday.  There will be a morning snack and a light lunch served on campus each day.

When you arrive on campus, please park in the Love Hall parking lot.

If you come in the front gate off West Paces Ferry Road, take your first left, follow this road until it dead ends.  (You will see a sign directing you to the Junior High, please disregard.)  Take a right at the dead end.  Turn at the second right, across from the Chapel, into the Love Hall parking lot.  Take the stairs across from the handicapped parking down to the Junior High.  When you arrive at the top of the amphitheatre bear right and enter the building.

If you have any special needs and are unable to climb the stairs, please email C. Kirk and she will give you alternate directions.

For maps and directions to Westminster go to the following website:  http://www.westminster.net/about_us/our-campus/maps-directions/index.aspx

For an area guide, you will find the following website helpful: http://www.westminster.net/about_us/our-campus/area-guide/index.aspx

See you soon…Jill

Traditionally, we have our participants learn from one facilitator all three days.  With this all-star line-up of facilitators, we’ve decided to mix it up on Wednesday.  Our participants are going to change classes just like our students do during the school year.  Each participant will have the opportunity to learn from at least four different T3 instructors. The topics for the round robin experience range from formative assessment with the TI-Nspire Navigator system to data collection with the CBR and the EasyTemp temperature probe to using Publish View to enhance lessons with visuals and video and more.

Doesn’t this sound like fun?  Isn’t it great to know that our children’s teachers choose to be learners too?

#Learnopolis and INMAX

Today, Westminster is hosting INMAX – a Benchmark Research membership group of large, independent schools in the U.S. The topic of focus is leadership and innovation, and the agenda appears quite intriguing as a whole.

At 11:15 a.m., Bo Adams (@boadams1) and I (@jgough) will be sharing a story about tearing down walls and connecting dots. We will be sharing the story of our school’s multi-year journey to become a PLC – a professional learning community. The official title of our session is “Learnopolis: Tearing Down Walls with PLC.” We plan to use the Twitter hashtag #learnopolis for tweeters, and a PDF of our slide deck is embedded below (the iMovie in slide #9 is inserted below, too, as a YouTube video).

In short, we are trying to communicate the following:

  • “School” hasn’t changed very much in the last century – maybe longer. [We need to adapt and evolve!]
  • Schools exist in a bit of an “egg-crate culture” (Kathy Boles), as we have generally organized with individual teachers and rows and columns of students. For the most part, teachers are relatively isolated as professionals.
  • In the 21st c., we can capitalize on the notion of social networks by rethinking and rebuilding the critical infrastructure of schools – the human infrastructure. [New basic building block should be learning teams.]
  • While we cannot rebuild the physical plant, we can rebuild the way we work within the physical plant. We can build a learnopolis!
  • By shifting our central paradigm from “teaching” to “learning,” and by providing regular, job-embedded, structured time for teachers to collaborate, we can build the schools that 21st c. learners desire and deserve.

We are looking forward to learning together with our colleague schools at #INMAX today! And we are looking forward to building a learnopolis! After all…we should be learning by doing!

Feedback and Learning for All Involved: Peer Observations – FAAR

As part of our formative Faculty Assessment and Annual Review (FAAR) plan, we engage in a process of peer observations.  There are several ways this can be accomplished.  In its simplest form, we are to observe two of our colleagues – one in our department and one not in our department – and write a strength-based observation.  There are many points to this strand of our formative assessment plan.  Peer observations offer us the opportunity to learn from each other and to learn more about each other and our craft.

I was lucky enough to be observed teaching learners Algebra I by nine of my peers.  Seven of my colleagues completed the strength-based observation form to provide me with written feedback.  The observation process happens in different ways.  I asked GJ, MC, JA, and JG to observe my class of learners hiding in plain sight.  TM, FY, and TK asked if they could come observe me.  BC, DD and I work as a team.  We teach the same course; we are in each other’s classes all of the time.  We plan and learn together to help all of our learners.

There are many opinions and reactions to the peer observation process from my colleagues:

  • If it is only strength-based, will I learn anything from the observation?
  • Is the learning for the observed teacher or the observing teacher?
  • Who should submit the observation to the principal?
  • How will I have time to do the observation and then write it up?
I have asked for and been given permission from my colleagues to publish their feedback and observations.  I value the feedback of my colleagues.  I read and reread these observations to improve and learn.  I share them with you so that you can decide if these observations are valuable learning experiences for the teachers involved.  Did I learn?  Did the observing teacher learn?
 
MC serves as the 8th grade boys’ grade chair, and he teaches algebra.  I felt that I was struggling with my 7th period class and asked Mark to observe and advise.
GJ teaches 8th grade science, and we have many learners in common.  I asked him to observe for the same reasons.  There was the added benefit that we each learned something that connected our courses.

JA has a global view of Westminster as an alum, a faculty member, and a parent.

TM is new to Westminster this school year.

FY co-facilitates our History PLC.  We work in team at least once a week where we discuss learning, assessment, and curriculum.

TK is a former math teacher now working in our library.

Mark took the time to sit with me and debrief his observations and feedback during one of our planning periods.  Gary and I discuss our common learners and our curriculum regularly during our 4th period PLC.

  • Did will I learn anything from these observations? What about learning for the observed teacher or the observing teacher?
  • Is there any reason to not submit these observations to the principal?

Feedback and Learning for Me: Student Course Feedback – FAAR

As part of our formative Faculty Assessment and Annual Review (FAAR) plan, we survey our learners and provide them with an opportunity to offer us feedback on our course.

The process is pretty simple; we are to follow a 3-6-12 plan. We must select a minimum of 3 prompts from a bank of approximately 40 collaboratively produced prompts.  We must have a minimum of 6 prompts and a maximum of 12.  While 3 prompts must come from our bank, the remaining 3-9 prompts may come from the bank or be designed by the teacher.

To collect feedback from my Algebra I learners, I used a Google doc form to ask for feedback from my learners.  You are welcome to look at and experiment with a copy of my Algebra I Course Feedback – JGough 2011.  Feel free to experience the form from the perspective of my learners.  Play.  It is a copy; you won’t mess up my collected data.

Here are a couple of reoccurring questions:  Are 13-14 year-olds capable of giving quality feedback?  Will we learn anything from collecting feedback from the perspective of these young learners?  I’ll leave it up to you to answer these questions.

Below are the responses from 34/35 of my learners.  The remaining learner has been absent for a couple of days and has not completed the survey.

Algebra I Student Course Feedback, 2010-11

My Reflection and Summary

Well?  I’d love to know what you think.  Are 13-14 year-olds capable of giving quality feedback?  Will we learn anything from collecting feedback from the perspective of these young learners?

Reflecting from aFAAR

In the Junior High, tis the season of conducting Student Course Feedback and, for some, it seems, completing Peer Visits – two of the five components of our Faculty Assessment and Annual Review (FAAR) process. Additionally, a third component of our formative assessment plan – Admin Observation – has been occurring all year. After seeing the note “re-review and process Synergy 8 SCF” on our respective to-do lists for months, Bo Adams and I have finally spent five meetings of second period reviewing and reflecting on our Synergy 8 student course feedback (SCF). Not only did we re-review the feedback to reconsider how things went during the first-semester course, but we also revisited the data in May so that we could pre-plan more effectively for the next iteration of Synergy 8. As we returned to the SCF and discussed the results, we remembered connections in the data that linked to things we read in our peer visit summaries and admin observation notes. We were reminded that student course feedback does not exist by itself. The components of our FAAR process are not intended to be isolated, siloed pieces of professional learning. They can be wonderfully integrated and whole. Also, they are not intended to be summative or evaluative – they are not judgmental pieces of professional evaluation. They are meant to be formative…lenses through which we can view our teaching and learning so as to grow and develop as educators…so that we can adjust our course.

What’s more, by reviewing and reflecting together, we enhanced our field of view and gained richer understanding from the blend of each other’s varied perspectives and reactions. During each of the five periods that we engaged in this collaborative work, we would independently review the data and write to the prompts on the narrative summary tool (“option #2”) for reflecting on one’s SCF – one reflective prompt at a time. Then, we would read and discuss each other’s responses. While this took more time than working through the reflection alone, we both believe we benefitted immensely from the writing, sharing, and dialoguing. We missed things in our individual reflections, but very little fell through any cracks by canvassing the feedback as a team of critical friends.

To share our system of feedback, we decided to use an online, cloud-storage, sharing tool called “Box.” By using Box, we could design some simple webdocs that literally show and archive the connections among the feedback and reflections. Box has a number of great features, including the ability to tag documents and post comments. To view our Box-stored system of feedback, please visit the “Synergy 8 – FAAR” folder.

Soon, our next collective endeavor will be to prepare our 2011-12 Goals and Self-Assessment (a fourth component of FAAR). Because we co-facilitate Synergy 8, we intend to employ the critical friends process again as we continue to prepare for our next team of Synergy learners. The manner in which we reviewed and reflected on our system of feedback has set up and primed our ability and enthusiasm to enhance the Synergy experience for the upcoming school year.

In addition to our course-specific questions, we are also engaged in thinking about some critical learning questions for ourselves and our FAAR process (and they may be good questions for you, too):

  • Can you learn more deeply reviewing feedback with a colleague? How can we assist each other in learning more deeply?
  • How can we build a common understanding of the needs of our learners? How can we find a richer understanding of ourselves as teammates and co-facilitators?
  • Do you have a team of critical friends? What feedback are you collecting and considering so that you can grow?
  • Would you learn more by sharing the results of your feedback with another for reflection and co-interpretation? How will we grow and learn together if we are not sharing our struggles and our successes?
  • What have we learned from this process that we can facilitate for our younger learners next semester? How can we model and implement a richer reflection and critical friends system as part of the course?
Note: This post is cross-posted at Bo Adams’s It’s About Learning.

Revision, Redemption, and Grades?

I want a culture or climate of revision and redemption for my learners.  The first step is second chance testing.  My learners have the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and redeem points from their struggle to learn.  I am comfortable and confident in this approach to testing even when my learners’ parents struggle to understand this break from tradition.  For many learners, we see immediate results in improved test scores.

I am now faced with a new struggle concerning my grading practices.  After reviewing a couple of examples, I am hoping that you will comment below to give me your opinions and thoughts to help me move forward.  Please?  Just press post comment.  It will be okay.

MC is a hard working Algebra I student.  She regularly attends Office Hours with her team to work on her homework and check her understanding.   She really struggled with exponential growth and decay, but she stuck with it and learned.  Let’s look at her test scores:

Exponential Functions:  88
Polynomial Functions:   92
Cumulative Midterm:     96

What grade or test average would you assign this learner?  Why?

FH is a great learner in class.  He makes great eye-contact; he listens and asks great questions.  His work outside of class is average.  He really struggled with the algebra of polynomials.  Let’s look at his test scores:

Exponential Functions:  72
Polynomial Functions:   52
Cumulative Midterm:     83

What grade or test average would you assign this learner? Why?

Is the average of these three grades an accurate reporting of what has been learned.  Didn’t the struggle to learn more about polynomials cause this learner to continue to improve?  Should he be held to that 52 when it may have helped him learn?  It the spirit of revision and redemption, how can we accurately represent – with one number – what he has learned. If time is the variable and learning is the constant, what do I do with this data?  How do I make an accurate report?

PK shows up and does the daily work.  She regularly attends Office Hours with MS’s team to work on her homework and check her understanding.   She really struggles to put it all together.  She is great when the learning is compartmentalized, but when given choices, she struggles to know what to do when.  Let’s look at her test scores:

Exponential Functions:  90
Polynomial Functions:   83
Cumulative Midterm:     80

What grade or test average would you assign this learner?  Why?

Is there only one algorithm for computing the summary grade?  Are the conditions where the algorithm could/should change to represent what is learned?

I want a culture or climate of revision and redemption for my learners.  But there are deadlines, right?  Should a learner be held accountable for work in January that caused them to struggle and learn?  How could/should these scores be weighted?

How can one number communicate and summarize to a learner, a parent, and a future teacher what these children know and are able to do?

Seeking brightspots and dollups of feedback about learning and growth.

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