I don’t know about you, but my activity levels have definitely decreased this past year. I find that I’m spending more time in front of my PC for work and recreation (video chatting with family and friends, going on virtual tours, streaming channels for shows and movies, etc.). With many children in remote or hybrid learning situations, their activity levels are also decreasing as it has become easier to move from one place to sit to another place to sit (i.e. chair to sofa). Besides allowing for more physical activity during breaks (run outside for 15 minutes, 5-minute stretches every hour, 60-minute lunch and recreation break sans devices), learning should also incorporate more movement. In addition, with the push for more hands-on STEM integration, students having to school at home need a viable option for STEM learning besides online games and interactive worksheets.
Coming into this new school year has been a mixed bag of emotions for everyone: anxiety, excitement, worry, relief. Although many schools are starting the year in-class, the possibility of switching to distance learning can add stress and uncertainty to the list especially for those juggling more than one child in school, work responsibilities, and maintaining some semblance of balance at home. There are quite a few news and social media posts of children trying hard to be excited about learning online but struggling. Understandably, this leads to concerns of substantial learning loss for our students.
I take lots of notes. Notes for projects at work. Notes when I take a training. Notes when I’m in a meeting. Notes for things I need to do at home. So many notes! But I have discovered in my many, many years of taking notes that if I don’t immediately go back and review them, highlighting what I seriously need to do and/or remember, those notes are just words on a page stored in a notebook (of more pages of notes).
Maths talk is more than simply describing the steps when solving a problem (“First, add the ones, then the tens. If you need to regroup, do that.”). Maths discussions are focused on the process of working towards a solution, understanding how others’ think about that process, and developing a plan for similar problems. Students should be pushed to think beyond an explanation of steps to an explanation of process, including making errors and how those were resolved. They should also be encouraged to use different methods and tools when solving a problem, then sharing these ideas with others to build a bank of strategies. How can engaging in maths talk be done successfully?
I love feedback. I appreciate how feedback has helped me to improve in different aspects of my life. I believe in giving feedback that makes someone feel good about a job well done. For me, feedback is essential to growth! Yet, I can remember countless afternoons struggling to write feedback on all my students’ essays before the next class. I wanted to be thorough and write about all of the points I referenced in the lessons but my hands would cramp, my brain was mush, and by the last student’s paper I was barely writing a sentence or two that I hoped would help them improve. Not until a colleague showed me what she did — quick notes on each student’s work as she walked around and observed them during independent work time — that I began to feel like my time was being used more effectively and my students were able to implement recommendations. I also found that because I was saving time, I could talk with each student and really get a sense of their comprehension and academic needs. Those quick conversations with each student were some of my favourite times as a teacher.
When I was beginning my learning adventure at 6 years old – back when teachers used blackboards and duplicators (Banda machines) – playing a game in class was the BEST! In Southern California where I’m from, it was unusual to have rainy days but when it happened our teacher would have us play Heads-Up, Seven Up during indoor break. I can remember hoping someone would put my thumb down so that I could guess the mystery person at the end of the round. We would play this game the entire time and groan aloud when break was over. Playing that game was a welcome respite from the months of circle time lessons and worksheets. Did I learn anything from playing Heads-Up? I didn’t think so at the time but looking back with my “teacher eye,” there was communication, engagement, and reasoning involved. Of course, I doubt learning those skills was intentional but it taught me two important things when I stepped into my teacher shoes: 1) children will remember the experience of a fun and engaging game, and 2) children can learn concepts and skills, solve problems, think critically, collaborate, follow rules, communicate thinking, etc. while playing a game!
When I look back at my time in the classroom, memories that most often pop up are seeing and hearing my students work together to finish a project. Many times, they were in groups of three or four busily drawing, colouring, writing, talking. For the life of me, I can barely remember the projects themselves, but I can remember the chatter, laughing, arguing, and smiles when the project was finished. I used to feel like, this is learning! Many teachers have probably experienced and felt that same sense of excitement and accomplishment. When we see our students fully engaged and involved in a project, it reveals their interests and connection to the topic. You will likely see many ‘aha’ moments.
Maths questions and story problems have the unique reputation of being the focus of many memes on how confusing they can be (Question: If you have 3 pencils and 6 oranges, how many clowns will fit in a car? Answer: Blue because ducks quack.). Now imagine a teacher repeating, reviewing, and restating terms and solution steps so that students finally understand. A scheduled one-hour lesson can easily take half a day! Now imagine that scenario in a virtual classroom. (I can already hear the crying…from teachers, students, and parents!) Thankfully, G Suite for Education has tools that can support Maths teaching and learning, while making the experience engaging, interactive, and successful.