#DIYedtech Challenge Update

Hey everyone, I just wanted to provide an update on the #DIYedtech Challenge. The first challenge was to create your own document camera out of your webcam and any other household items. If you want to learn more about the challenge, click here. There have been some submissions and I know of a few more that are currently in the works. A math facilitator mentioned the problem solving that took place as she tried to construct her doc cam. At first, the web cam was too heavy and kept toppling over so she had to grab a wider wooden board to give it a sturdier base and then she used duct tape to secure it. The best part was when her son saw her creation, he told her that he could totally make a better one and immediately asked his dad for a screw driver. When I heard this, I thought that this #DIYedtech challenge would be a great engaging project for students. Imagine the creativity and innovation that would flow from their minds. Teachers could tie it in to science for their structures and mechanisms strand or literacy by creating an advertisement for their doc cam. So I encourage educators to put this challenge to your students and see what they can come up with. I can’t wait for the entry by the math facilitator’s son.

I just wanted to showcase some of the doc cams to date. Enjoy!

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Don’t Fight The Darkness

Whenever my wife attends chiropractic conferences or workshops, she always comes home with these great quotes that she hears from the speakers that I always try to apply to my role in education. Last week, she came home with another great one, “You can’t fight the darkness. You can only turn on the lights.”

When I heard this quote, I thought of an issue that is consistently brought up when I present to large groups or work with small groups of teachers; the limited access to technology in their classrooms. It’s very easy fall into the trap of “fighting the darkness” when it comes to not having access to technology. You can swing your fists as much as you want but it’s still going to be pitch black. Sure, it can be frustrating being in a classrom with only one computer and no wireless internet (I’ve been there) but having a classroom filled with expensive technology does not automatically increase engagement and achievement. Rather than “fighting the dark” and focusing on what your classroom lacks in terms of technology, “turn on the light” and take an assets-based approach. What does your classroom have and how can it be effectively be used to develop 21st century fluencies?

Keeping the Genius

This is my daughter Ava teaching me a very important lesson (yet again) with her child-like genius.

Last week, I was in the kitchen with Ava sitting at the counter having our usual father/daughter morning conversation. Ava started off sitting in the chair on the left as I was getting breakfast ready. However, the chair on the left is not her usual spot at the counter and she explained to me that she didn’t want to sit in “that” chair and wanted to switch. I automatically said, “Just climbed down that chair and climb back up the other one.” but Ava didn’t seem satisfied with my solution. Instead of taking my advice, she climbed up on the counter and crawled across the countertop to the chair on the right and sat down. My instant reaction was to remind Ava of the dangers of crawling across high places but afterwards, I thought about what she did and began to look at her actions in a different perspective.

Ava is three years old. So to her, climbing up on the counter is a perfectly reasonable solution to switching chairs. In fact, for a petite three-year old, it is probably easier to crawl across the counter than it is to climb down her chair and climb back up the other chair.

As an adult, I would have never thought to climb up on the counter and crawl across it to switch chairs. Why is that? Maybe it’s because I’d probably fall off and smoke my head off the edge OR maybe it’s because I’m an adult and I have preprogrammed perceptions in my subconscious mind telling me that crawling on countertops is inappropriate and dangerous. Do these preprogrammed perceptions embedded in my subconscious limit my ability to think creatively and outside the box?

Ava is not limited by these perceptions (yet). To me, this was an excellent example of creativity and thinking outside the box. To her, this was a perfectly normal and reasonable solution to her problem. The reason why are children are entering kindergarten with genius-like skills is because they aren’t held back by downloaded perceptions that us grown-ups have of right/wrong, appropriate/inappropriate, good/bad, possible/impossible which are pretty well established. Children’s perceptions are not set in stone. For them,  anything and everything is possible.

Malcolm Gladwell, author of Blink, writes about the power of our subconscious and the impact that it has on our thinking and behaviour. Bruce Lipton, biologist and co-author of Spontaneous Evolution, states that 95% of our thinking and behaviours are controlled by our subconscious mind which is already established by age six. However, he also argues that the perceptions that are programmed in our subconscious can be deprogrammed. Lipton’s argument is very encouraging for the students that are currently in our education system.

So what does this mean for us educators? How do we keep and develop the innovation, the creativity, the imagination in our students who are moving through our education system? We give them a voice and listen. We allow them to think and use their own invented strategies to solve problems. We guide them to think critically about their strategies and other students’ strategies. We let them be active-participants in their own learning. We learn with them as opposed to teach to them. We look for limiting perceptions that hinder and handcuff our students’ genius and guide them to the realization that they can succeed and that anything is possible.

I went back to Ava that morning and told her that she used a very creative way of getting to the other chair that I hadn’t even thought of and that she taught me something new. She was so proud and gave me the biggest smile. It was a “Kodak” moment that was captured in the picture at the beginning of this post.

I thought I’d leave you with an amazing video that also inspired this blog post.

A Change of Mind: From Competition to Cooperation

I just read a fantastic blog post by Zoe Weil called Reflections on Competition in School.The post sparked great conversation about cooperation vs. competition and I felt compelled to join the conversation. The following was my comment on Zoe’s blog post:

Bruce Lipton is a leading researcher on “new biology” and author of Biology of Belief and and Spontaneous Evolution says that our preoccupation with competition stems from the world’s “myth-perception” of how evolution occurs based on Darwinian theory where nature eliminates the weak in a battle for survival. Consequently, life is basically a competition with winners and losers.

Here is an excerpt from one of his interviews from Planeta Magazine explaining his view on cooperation vs. competition.

Darwinian theory further emphasizes that life is based upon a “survival of the fittest in the struggle for existence,” implying that it is a “dog-eat-dog” world where we must struggle to stay alive. This idea of “struggle” was originally based upon Thomas Malthus’ theory that predicted: “Animals reproduce so quickly that there will come a time when there will be too many animals and not enough food.” So life will inevitably result in a struggle and only the “fittest” will survive the competition. This idea has carried over into human culture so that we see our daily lives as one long competition driven by the fear of losing the struggle. Unfortunately, Malthus’ idea was found to be scientifically incorrect, consequently the competitive character of Darwinian theory is basically flawed.

New insights offered in biology are now revealing that the biosphere (all the animals and plants together) is a giant integrated community that is truly based upon a cooperation of the species. Nature does not really care about the individuals in a species; Nature cares about what the species as a “whole” is doing to the environment. Simply, Nature does not care that we have had an Einstein, a Mozart or a Michelangelo (examples of humanity’s “fittest”), Nature is more concerned about how human civilization is cutting down the rain forests and changing the climate.

The “new biology” emphasizes that evolution is 1) not an accident and 2) is based upon cooperation, these insights are profoundly different than those offered by conventional Darwinian theory. A newer theory of evolution would emphasize the nature of harmony and community as a driving force behind evolution, ideas that are completely different than today’s notion of life/death competition.

Most of us are of the belief that we need to have competition in education because that is the reality of the world that we live in and we have to prepare our students to survive in that “dog-eat-dog” world. However, it is evident that this notion of “survival of the fittest” is not doing our world any good and there needs to be a change of mind. I think this change of mind needs to start in our education system. It’s not about preparing our students to compete in the “dog eat dog” world. We need to focus on cooperation in education so that we can prepare our students to change the “dog eat dog” misperception that the world currently holds.

Whiteboards vs. Chart Paper

credit: whiteboardsusa.com

I was introduced to concept of “Whiteboarding” when I read Frank Noschese’s fantastic blog post titled, “The $2 Interactive Whiteboard” As a former math teacher and math facilitator I was drawn to whiteboarding and socratic dialogues. The whiteboard is such a simple, low tech tool but promotes collaboration, problem solving, communication, basically all of the 7 mathematical processes that I blogged about a few months ago. If you have a few minutes to spare, read the following 5 pg. article on whiteboarding.

There are so many benefits to whiteboarding in the classrooms. I won’t go into details since you can read them on Frank Nochese’s blog mentioned above. However, one question I brought up to Frank on his post was what the difference was between using a whiteboard and just plain chart paper (which up to this point I used very frequently). Other than the obvious benefit of saving paper and trees, he refered to a researcher Colleen Megowan who studied different types of whiteboarding and the affect on student dynamics. Althought it didn’t actually make it into the research paper, she did look at the differences between chart paper and whiteboards and her observations make perfect sense.

When students collaborate using a chart paper most of the thinking and reasoning usually happens before the marker actually touches the paper. This may be due to the fact that students don’t want to make mistakes. Therefore, when students do start writing on the chart paper, it is a summarization of the conversation and the thinking and reasoning that took place before. In addition, Colleen spoke of the “power of the marker” and the fact that usually it is the same student that ends up with the responsibility with writing on the chart paper. Maybe these students are leaders of the group, have the neatest handwriting, or just get to the marker before everyone else but what these students write is their interpretation of the group’s conversation and may not necessarily represent the group’s collaborative thinking.

When students use whiteboards, the writing usually happens as the students converse, reason, and think collaboratively. The ideas written on the whiteboard evolve as the conversation unfolds and is a better representation of the group’s thinking than if written on chart paper. Because the markings can be easily erased, students are immediately  inclined to write without hesitation. Whiteboards are also less intimidating for students and encourage multiple students to contribute and write. In addition, Megowan spoke about the “power of the eraser” and the fact that writing can be erased changes the group dynamics and allows a new role (the eraser) to emerge within the group.

After reading more literature on whiteboarding and socratic dialogues, I was hooked and immediately saw the benefits not only for math but in all subject areas and needed to have a set of six whiteboards for myself to try out. I wanted whiteboards with similar dimensions to standard chart paper (24″ x 32″). I looked into getting whiteboards from Staples but the cheapest whiteboards with the dimensions I was looking for cost about $28 each (with tax, close to $200 for six). I needed a cheaper alternative and Frank mentioned on his blog that educators were going to homedepot, Lowes, or Rona and purchasing 4′ x 8′ tileboard and cutting them into six smaller sections (24″ x 32″). However, my online searches on these stores’ websites for tileboard came up with nothing. I phoned multiple home depots and Rona’s in my surrounding area and several phone calls later, I finally found a Rona that had one panel of 4′ x 8′ tileboard in stock. With my school board discount, I was able to purchase the panel for $37 and didn’t have to pay for the cutting since Rona gives you the first 3 cuts for free. So all in all, each whiteboard came to approx. $6.17. Not quite $2 whiteboards but I am very happy with my whiteboards and I’m very excited to implement and share the whiteboarding strategy with the teachers in my school board.

I’m not advocating that we abolish chart paper from the classroom. Chart paper still has it’s place for ideas that need to have a permanent fixture in the classroom. (anchor charts, learning goals, success criteria) However, there are situations in the classroom where using whiteboards would be more effective for collaboration, thinking, and reasoning than chart paper. The benefits of whiteboarding shouldn’t be ignored and should have a place in the classroom as well. I would love to hear your comments on how you use the whiteboarding strategy in your classroom.

In my next blog post, I will be looking at various websites that offer online whiteboards that allow students and teachers to collaborate online and see if the whiteboarding concept can be implemented in a digital environment. Perhaps the digital environment would have an effect on group dynamics not seen in typical face to face whiteboarding interactions or perhaps new roles would emerge from collaborating online.