Friday, December 21, 2012

Don't Peek Behind the Curtain!!

Secret Teacher: leadership is like the Wizard of Oz - a facade that lacks magic

Senior leaders are drowning in paperwork rather than inspiring others, says Secret Teacher
School leaders: like the Wizard of Oz the higher echelons of school management are not what our blogger thought they would be.
In the Wizard of Oz, as Dorothy and the others seek an answer to their problems, there is an eventual realisation that there is no great cure or no great solution to any of the ailments they face. When they finally see the Wizard, they realise he is nothing more than a small, ordinary man who can no more grant courage than he can give hearts. By seeing behind the curtain, the magic disappears and they are presented with the harsh reality.

As a young teacher I aspired to greater things as I felt that those in positions of responsibility had a driving passion, excelled at their job and were able to make a difference. As I've climbed the rungs of the ladder though, I'm afraid to report that having seen behind the curtain, the world of SLT doesn't do the things it should. As I rose higher this soon became apparent. As head of department, I realised that the higher I got, the more paper was pushed and the less conversations about learning took place. Unperturbed I've continued the climb, only to find that the higher echelons of school management are not the places I expected them to be. I expected a table full of people striving to make a difference, outstanding teachers in their own field, each with strengths to develop this in others. And it isn't. Behind the curtain can actually be a depressing place.

It's a place, ironically, most teachers are looking to avoid - an office. A world of policies, guidelines, unions and grants. Of bizarre abbreviations, self evaluation forms (SEFs) and school development plans (SDPs) and a crescendo of paper shuffling. Most teachers go into the profession believing they can make a difference and those who look to progress do so in order to have more chance of doing this, but actually it's a place where capable staff are wading through bureaucracy.

So where's the blame? The academy status doesn't help. Schools were not designed to be businesses, they were designed to be places of learning and consequently the people at the top of them have an expertise in teaching, not in business. In the past week, my headteacher has suffered a three-hour finance meeting about the accounts of our new limited company, countless discussions about a proposed rebuild over part of our school that may/may not happen, and other uses of her day that don't relate to teaching and learning, all at a crucial time when we need to be doing something about our core subject results and raising standards in the classroom. We spend hours of SLT meetings discussing things that aren't related to students and their learning and something has to give.

As school leaders, we need to refocus on what's vitally important and find a way to leave the rest to other people. All school leaders started off as teachers and this needs to be what the focus returns to. Hiding away in offices studying policies and rewriting SEFs doesn't make a day-to-day impact on students. Senior staff need to be brave enough not to be distracted from the focus; that of creating a culture of good learning. We need to keep in mind what's important and shift the focus back to enabling students to do the very best they can and getting teachers to feel as empowered and motivated as possible. If schools are to become cathedrals of learning, we need to ensure that the focus is on what we're good at, and not on other things that sidetrack our time. Teaching has become a profession we're over-complicating.

In order to refocus US president Bill Clinton during his election campaign, concerned that the agenda was shifting daily away from what voters valued, his chief strategist James Carville hung a sign in the campaign office saying: "The economy, stupid." At the height of Disney's fame, as theme parks were being talked of and movies going global, founder Walt made the statement: "I only hope that we never lose sight of one thing – that it was all started by a mouse." Apparently this still hangs on the wall at Disney HQ as a reminder to all of where the focus is. Senior leaders need to look at what occupies their time and ask the question: "Is it going to directly improve the learning in my school?" And if it doesn't address that priority it needs to be done at another time by someone else. If we can do this, staff will feel more motivated, students more valued and standards will rise. It will also mean that the next generation of school leaders will be those who aspire to get behind the curtain and can join me in this good fight to do what we're good at, and leave the rest to the others.

Today's Secret Teacher is an assistant headteacher in the east of England.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

13 Sacred Cows in Schools (and what to do about them)

Read the blog post here.  Industrial school model needs to make way for creativity and innovation in our schools.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Deck the Halls!!

Christmas Math is spilling out into the hallways of our schools!
Check out OMSK's Grade 3 Christmas scenes, complete with measured houses and conical conifers!
Then scroll further to see the stacked measurements of ILTO's Grade 2 Christmas tree towers.  Scrunched inbetween are some reindeer, with complete instructions on how to make one yourself!
Now that's combining numeracy and literacy in a fun, festive way.


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Treefrog Treasure

Need something to keep those few students occupied while you practice the Christmas Concert for the 40th time through?  How about this fun, awesome game that combines a frog jumping with multiple fractional representation?  Courtesy of BrainPOP's GAME UP session.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Activities for your pre-Holiday week

Activities for your pre-Holiday week

Courtesy of Yummy Math!  A great website resource for wonderful math ideas.  After you click the link, scroll below to see a lesson plan that asks for questions about this Soda Santa.


Friday, December 14, 2012

Another Nail in the Coffin of Textbooks

View the original article from the source by clicking here or continue reading the entire article below.

Digital textbooks are great, right? Education Secretary Arne Duncan thinks so – and is calling for the US to move as quickly as possible to make the switch. “Over the next few years, textbooks should be obsolete”, he said. Part of the push comes from not wanting to be late to the game – students in many other countries are ahead of the US in adopting new educational technologies.

Aside from not wanting to be the slow kids on the playground, there are a number of compelling reasons to make the shift to digital sooner rather than later. We’re sure you can come up with a million other reasons on your own, but here are the ones that really get us excited for a major shift to digital:

1. Save A Spine

You know what stinks? When your back hurts. You know what stinks even more? When your back has been hurting since you were in the first grade because you had to carry so many darned books around. We’ve all seen kids waddling to school carrying backpacks nearly as large as they are, filled to capacity and visibly pulling down. Lots of studies are showing that heavy backpacks can cause chronic back pain, especially in children, who are still growing. “Back pain” is pretty generic. But nerve damage in the neck and shoulders, stress fractures in the back, inflammation of growth cartilage, and back and neck strain are not. We bet you don’t want any of those and you wouldn’t want your students to, either.

2. Interactive Features Rule

We’re moving away from a learning tradition of being lectured at and doing exercises and reading from a book, so our textbooks need to catch up, too. Digital textbooks are so much more than simply a digital version of a paper book. Many include features such as videos, interactive models, and moveable diagrams to keep students engaged and enrich the explanations of topics. Since all of these are now located in the textbook, there’s no need for teachers or students to collect many materials from many sources to have all they need for a topic.

3. Bringing Books and Notebooks Together

Many digital textbooks have the ability to add ‘layers’ right on top of each page. Students and teachers can take notes, add drawings, write questions, and work out problems as needed. No need to keep a separate notebook or binder for class notes, homework, or miscellaneous associated work.

4. More Personalized Curriculum

Many (print) textbook publishers encourage (read: basically force) schools and districts to purchase a package deal for their textbooks. So if you really want the extra super fabulous Algebra 2 textbook from X publisher, you’re probably stuck with their bordering on crappy basic math text, too. With digital, its much easier to pick and choose from the best of the best texts in each subject matter. Furthermore, if you (as a teacher or a student) want a copy of a different text then your class is using, it is much easier to obtain a copy than trying to get a single hard copy textbook from a publisher.

5. Save Money

It seems pretty obvious that you’ll save trees when you buy something digital vs. paper, but you also save a lot of money. Pricing for both buying and renting digital textbooks is lower than for paper. Additionally, digital textbooks don’t need to be replaced for wear and tear or damage, but they also don’t need to be physically reprinted when they’re updated. New editions are available much more quickly and easily.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Ontario Educational Resource Bank Pilot Project

Here is some of the information surrounding the newest resource accessible to us, the Ontario Educational Resource Bank.  A permanent link has been added to the Links for Teachers sidebar.  Ask your School Leaders for your teacher and/or student password to login to access the resources.

To get an overview of the search engine and what is available on the site, you can do the online tutorial, which can be accessed from the site itself, or viewed by clicking here.

It looks like the site could be used to share Native Language resources, so maybe this is a good place to share those files that are created and could be handy for other NSL or Immersion teachers in our district and at other First Nation schools.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Right Hand Turn Problem

Thank you to Peter Child from BASEF for sharing this problem.  Lots of math involved in this experiment, from simpler measurement concepts of distance to greater mathematical concepts to do with speed, velocity and perceived space and the rate of which one's eyes can determine distance.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Student Genius Inspires to Make Baths a Thing of the Past

This is utterly amazing.  The bright minds of the future may just yet save us from ourselves.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Ontario Teacher Strike is about Democracy - Activism - Multiple Musings |

Ontario Teacher Strike is about Democracy - Activism - Multiple Musings |

Click the link above to read the article from its original source.  Continue reading below to read the article here in its entirety.

Multiple Musings

Ontario Teacher Strike is about Democracy

images (1).jpeg
"Every day I wake up on the wrong side of capitalism," Lewenza declares. "And every day I wake up knowing there are more people with me. Enough of us are waking up to fight back."
"The evidence is just about bulletproof: When union membership thrives, so does the middle class. Over the past 18 month, studies by Harvard University, the non-partisan Center for American Progress (CAP), the union-backed Economic Policy Institute (EPI) in Washington, D.C., and the Pew Research Center, also in Washington, have shown an incontrovertible correlation between the rate of unionization and the percentage of the nation's total wealth held by the middle class."
The Toronto Star, Is Decline of unions leading to decline of the middle class?, by Antonia Zerbisias, published on August 31, 2012.
There is no doubt in my mind that without unions be will eventually revert to the 1930s era of labour relations (and pre 1930s). Labour laws will not be enough to protect workers from the voracious appetites of hungry, profit maximizing, endless growth seeking, unsustainable corporations. They can afford better lawyers than we can.
That is why I support this strike. It's not about money. It's not even about sick days and retirement gratuities (see more on this later). It's about a government that passes a law that undermines our right to collective bargaining, this is setting a precedent for all workers.

Protecting democracy is about our kids - it's about their future. I want my kids to live in a world where they are protected from unfair and unsafe labour practices. The shift away from fair labour relations began long ago, with Walmart and other box stores and it will continue until the gap between rich and poor can grow no more. Canadian, American and multi-national companies are involved in extremely poor, abusive and sometimes murderous treatment of workers in countries where there are no unions to protect the people. This can happen again here if we let it.
The strike is about fighting a government that is prorogued in times of discomfort in order to avoid their responsibilities to the public.
It's about governments (provincial and federal) who pass omnibus bills pushing through dangerous and disturbing legislation to further their own interests.
Yoda Democracy.jpg
This is also about the misinformation the the government is feeding the public. Some newspapers ferret this out, like in this article in the Ottawa Citizen regarding retirement gratuities.
This is also about remembering basic decency and human rights theory, people who are treated with respect feel better about their jobs, about themselves and perform better. What is the government modelling here?
Here is some information on the more nitty gritty details of the issues.
Read this article by People For Education about the problem with bookkeeping. The Ministry shows all potential sick days as liabilities as part of the deficit. The reality is that most teachers don't use up all those sick days so they are not really liabilities. The cost of the gratuity is less than the cost of using the sick days (see below).
The reality is that strike is the only option left. The government likes to state that they tried to bargain and the unions walked away, but that is patently untrue. The unions are welcome to bargain if, and only if, they meet the terms set out in the OECTA Memorandum of Understanding. (In case you didn't know this, provincial OECTA sold out their members, agreeing to a deal without ratification from a single local).
Back to the issue of sick days and retirement gratuities, here is a well spoken comment made on a blog post:
"The 200 days banked is merely the level needed to get the gratuity. Most teachers have much more than that. What most people fail to understand is that it is in the Board's (and taxpayer's) best interest to encourage teachers to bank as many as possible. For every day a teacher is away, the public needs to pay both the teacher who is off sick and a supply teacher. I have banked over 320 sick days in my career so far - the cost to the taxpayer if I had used those days instead of banking them? - $192,000.
I know at this point, logical, fiscal arguments don't usually help, so let me make it more personal. This year I had a bout of pneumonia and was away for quite sometime. Would you, as a parent, really want me in the classroom/school infecting your child and possibly hundreds of others? If I'm not there, what would you have done for your child? Send them to the library? Gym? How would it sound if you were told, "No math class today. my teacher was off sick."?"

by Wayne Scott Ng on

I will add the caveat that unions need to clean up their side of the street also. They must weed out greed and corruption within their ranks (I sense another more philosophical post on human nature coming).
You may think I'm being melodramatic, but I don't think so. Our rights are being slowly chipped away at year after year while the majority of people remain blissfully unaware or apathetic at best and willfully supporting it in their own interests at worst.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Problem Solving with Perimeter, Hold the Context

[Farrand, West, and Stetson] Problem Solving as PD for the CCSS

Farrand kicked this one off with a figure composed of 18 paper squares that had a perimeter of 20. “Can you come up with a figure using 18 squares that has a larger perimeter than this one?” he asked participants. “How about a smaller perimeter?”

Farrand then passed out baggies of paper squares that we cautiously manipulated on our laps. This session was begging for tables. With squares placed corner to corner, we found a maximum perimeter of 72. We agreed on a minimum perimeter of 18. One participant stacked the squares on top of each other for a perimeter of 4, but this only resulted in clarifying conditions for the shapes.
West, Farrand, and Stetson teamed up to ask a lot of questions. On the side, we were asked which questions perplexed us the most.

Through a series of these questions we were coaxed into thinking about what happens to the perimeter as we add squares. We quickly discovered that when squares are added, sometimes perimeter increases, but at other times it doesn’t. Here’s what we found:

The group’s discovery was that changing the number of contiguous squares in a row or column has no effect on the perimeter. The perimeter is equivalent to a figure with the row or column maximized. Putting a finger on why this is the case and using language to explain it pulled in some rich math practices.

Farrand then challenged us to use this understanding to calculate the perimeter of a figure without counting:

Throughout the session Stetson facilitated “Teacher Time-Out” moments, highlighting approaches that were used to get us thinking more deeply about the problem. “Did you hear the question Rick just asked? What sort of thinking would that require you to do? What mathematical practices are in play here?” Participants reflected on the importance of capitalizing on student curiosity and facilitating student sharing.

We then explored figures composed of equilateral triangles with the guiding question, “How does adding triangles affect perimeter?” One big surprise of the session came at this point: adding an equilateral triangle to a figure of five triangles can actually decrease the perimeter.

I found this problem to be refreshingly devoid of context. There was no talk of minimizing fence material for a dog’s pen, for example. It was a great opportunity to reason and justify conclusions. Discoveries were made and a few surprises propelled participants into further questioning. West, Farrand and Stetson reminded us that problem solving tasks are key sources for the use of mathematical practices in our classrooms.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

10 Tips for Using Evernote in the Classroom

10 Tips for Using Evernote in the Classroom courtesy of Teq PD.  You will need to enter your info to receive the download link to a free e-book that is quite an interesting way to learn about Evernote and the related family of apps (Skitch, Penultimate, Clearly, Web Clipper).  In addition to the 10 tips that follow, there is a description of each app and how you can begin using it right away in your classroom.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Give a Compliment, Get a Compliment

I would like to share this video, and to say to all of you, the staff and students at Six Nations, as well as any of the regular blog readers out there that I have crossed paths with, that I appreciate the time you've spent with me, learning about math together, sharing in conversations about education and enjoying a life of learning and dialogue.

As for the street compliments idea, how powerful would it be to set something like this up in our schools?  We have the technology to do it.  Using a Mac lab or Photo Booth or the web cam, we could have our students complimenting each other, along with our teachers and education staff.  We could all use a little more complimenting of one another in our lives.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Top 16 iPad Apps for Education

Top 16 iPad Apps for Education courtesy of Teq PD.  You will need to enter your info to receive the download link to a free e-book that is quite an interesting way to learn about the 16 apps.