Thursday, August 15, 2013

[#leadershipday13] What if?

It's Leadership Day at Dangerously Irrelevant! To celebrate the author has given a throw down:
On Thursday, August 15, 2013, blog about whatever you like related to effective school technology leadership: successes, challenges, reflections, needs, wants, resources, ideas, etc. Write a letter to the administrators in your area. Post a top ten list. Make a podcast or a video or a voice-narrated presentation. Highlight a local success or challenge. Recommend some readings. Create an app, game, or simulation. Draw a cartoon. Do an interview of a successful technology leader. Respond to some of the questions below or make up your own. If you participated in years past, post a follow-up reflection. Whatever strikes you. 
And, so.  Here. I. Am.

I want to start by asking you to take a minute and list all of the reasons you can't use technology.  Every one.  List them all. Embrace your Negative Nancy and reach for the... not stars... but the pit of despair (bonus points if you know the movie). Indulge yourself. List them, celebrate them, bow down to them.

Now. Ask yourself a new question.

What if?
What if it scared you and you did it anyway?
What if you did it, failed, did it a new way, failed again, and learned exactly what not to do next time? What if you have no idea how to do it and have to ask someone?
What if it takes you an hour to do something your students can do in a minute?
What if you don't know the answer and you allow your students to teach you?
What if they have to teach you more than once, you get frustrated, and they see that?
What if?  What would happen if all of that were true?

Many of us have heard or quoted the famous line, "What would you do if you could not fail?" most commonly attributed to Robert H. Schuller. In this age of technology and innovation in our schools on the starting line (first lap?) of the Common Core State Standards, I have started asking another question:

What's the worst thing that could happen in you failed, and why don't you try it out and see?

We learn from failure. We learn what not to do, what to do differently, what to do instead, how to work around things. We learn from mistakes much more powerfully than from successes, in some ways. I wrote and rewrote this line a few different times.  It's risky because it can be taken out of context, but here goes:

Let's embrace the possibility of failure in our learning and even in our teaching. Let's make every mistake we can think of! Let's fail right in front of everyone and celebrate the learning that happens.

Pick up a computer, a new device, an app or program you haven't used and use it! Learn how with your students, with your teachers, by yourself behind the shed.  Struggle through it and learn something--anything. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

[Teaching Ideas] Vocabulary Development--Greek Roots

A coworker posed a question to me on Friday and I stewed on it all weekend.

How would I teach Greek and Latin roots to middle grade students?

This sent my mind to spinning. I've never been a strong proponent of weekly spelling or vocabulary lists and quizzes. I found that my strong students memorized them for a period of time, my middle students memorized them for less time, and my struggling students struggled to memorize or use them and this was compounded each week--they knew it was coming, they knew it was hard and they began to know they would fail.

As I began to work with the San Diego Area Writing Project a couple of years ago I was introduced to the work of Katie wood Ray, Jeff Anderson, Kelly Gallagher and others. I was also lucky enough to learn from my Summer Institute fellows one Summer. Through multiple participant demos I was able to crystallize my thinking about this issue. What follows is a brainstorm of ideas combining what I have learned from practice, from the authors listed above, and from other SDAWP Fellows.

I posted awhile back about a method of vocabulary development I adopted after working with Abby--an SDAWP fellow. Click here for more information and examples of that process.

Now... THIS is how I'd approach the teaching of Greek or Latin Roots:

I would start by initiating a conversation using nonsense words. There are low-stress, no-right-answer kind of words and students can wrestle with them with less risk. Two of these texts do provide "answers" that definite the nonsense words, but I use these texts for the process of inquiry as opposed to the act of getting the right answer. Here are three that work well listed in order of least challenging to most challenging.

Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll (this is a fun picture book version)

Allow the students to explore the words, possible meanings, maybe parts of speech, patterns they find, and most importantly to explain their thinking. Many of our students are lacking experience in this kind of problem solving and their answers may be seem wild or unfounded. This is time for them to practice reasoning, for teachers to practice letting students figure it out, and to allow space for the wrong answers. Even in the cases were the author or literary critics have provided a "correct" answer, it is okay to be wrong in a lesson like this.

After this exercises use a similar model to introduce Greek or Latin roots.  Provide 10 or so roots in a list or embedded in an article or story (even better) and let the students wrestle with it. I suggest starting with just enough roots to provide the opportunity to discover patterns or connections to prior knowledge, but not so many that it becomes a "vocabulary list" in the traditional sense.

Guide them to come up with patterns and to provide evidence for their decisions. It is okay for the initial guess to be wrong, and even for the evidence to be faulty at this point. They will get to the correct answer either from their peers or, in the end, from the teacher. For now, let them stretch their brains.

If appropriate, you may use this video clip as a humorous way to transition from the inquiry above to the final list of roots and meanings. It is a short video clip from My Big Fat Greek Wedding showing how Greek roots work.

 **Note--the first word is a correct Greek root, but the second example is not.  This may lead to a discussion about how not all words have Greek roots.  This is also an excellent opportunity to have students look into both examples (arachnophobia and kimono) and come up with their own answers as to their veracity and why or why not.

If your students are doing well with this kind of inquiry or thinking you might consider NOT handing them the correct answers with the first list. Maybe challenge them with the task of coming to a group consensus on each word and  maybe after that they can look it up on their own (a great opportunity to use your technology). This might be a time that you never do have to lecture or hand out answers. You can spot check or do an exit ticket to make sure they have them by the end, but this is something they can do!

After all of this, you will still have more groups of words to present. I suggest a few options. If the model above worked well, try it again with a new list! If they struggled or it came easy to them, here are a couple more options you could use with future groups of words:

--The No List option--have students bring you new words. You can set the stage by providing opportunity or appropriate texts and objects, but have the students "discover" them and add them to the group list.  Each new discovery is a class find.  Perhaps assign a visual and a kinesthetic motion to each as you go and post them on the list. Practicing the list can become a bell-0ringer activity, or entrance or exit slip material. This is similar to the protocol I used here.

--The Short List Option--provide a list of a 5 or so words with the same root or similar roots on a Monday and thread them in your texts throughout the week.  Students can add to their list all week and present a completed list to you on Friday for a privilege or a grade. Bonus points if they remember them without their notes!

--The Longer List Option--Provide 10 or so words that you know can be grouped into some sort of pattern or set. Use an inquiry process similar to the one above to identify the meanings.Refer back to the list each day and sneak it into texts, sentences, classroom directions.  Inundate your room with them. You may give a "for fun" quiz at the end.  Each correct answer gets a bonus point.

--The Longest List Option--hand out a huge list of Greek Roots and spread the investigation out over a series of weeks. Students will see the list, maybe have it placed prominently on their binder, iPad, Chrome Book or other classroom device and if they see a word in a text or hear it, they can highlight it and fill the info out.  This turns the learning into a long-term scavenger hunt.  As above, I suggest taking a minute each time one is discovered (and you may have to plant them throughout your lessons), assigning a visual and a kinesthetic memory tool to each and adding them to a larger list.

So there you have it.  My brain dump on how I would teach Greek or Latin Roots. Whew!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

[#pb10for10] Picture Books, Picture Books, Everywhere Are Picture Books

I heard about the 10 for 10 Picture Book event a few times today and finally, just now, realized I needed to get off of my tookus and add my own in.  Here are my 10 favorite, can't-live-without picture books.

Poetry and Art
1. Life Doesn't Frighten Me by Maya Angelou (art by Jean-Michele Basquiat)
Jean Michele Basquiat illustrates this poem by Angelou. The poem stands on its own as a strong mentor text for a variety of writer's craft tools--my favorites are juxtaposition and repetition for effect, but is augmented beautifully by Basquiat's art.  This is a great springboard for an artist study as well--and a possible model for a writing assignment linking a poem (existing or student-written) and the work of a particular artist.

2. Jabberwocky  by Lewis Carroll (art by Christopher Myers)
I imagine you might be sensing a theme already in the kind of picture books I'm drawn to. Again, Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll stands alone as a mentor text. I've used it often as a word study springboard. Add the art of Christopher Myers, and the link to the origins of the game of basketball and link to current athletes, and you've got a winner! I've used the author's explanation of the book as a mentor text in middle grades in a variety of lessons.  The first two paragraphs give you a hint:

3. If by Sarah Perry and from the Getty Trust

A series of "What if's" accompanied by gorgeous art.  Yes... I have a distinct style of favorite.

4. Imagine a Day by Sarah L. Thomson (art by Rob Gonzalves)

I used this book and others by Magic Realism artist Rob Gonsalves in lessons focused on incorporating Magic Realism in writing in class, in writing camp, and for my own writing.  I wrote about in this post here.


This book is new to me, but quickly earned a spot on my favorites list. I heard about it on the NPR show A Way With Words. Co-host Grant Barrett talked about how his son was comforted by the message in this biography that sometimes, as artists or wordsmiths, we have a vision in our mind and it is so difficult to get it on paper in a way that matches the image in our head, or the models we have seen in our lives.  That is a message our young writers need to hear.

6. Frida by Jonah Winter

This book also explores the idea of an artists mind while sharing biograpical information about Frida Kahlo.  I love the rich and colorful illustrations and the story of Frida's childhood and how she turned to art to help her deal with her own health issues and pain.


Monsters and math? This book explores the math concepts of factoring and prime and composite numbers using monsters and bold illustrations. What more could you ask for? Here is an illustration from early in the book:

Hee hee.  Math and Steinbeck. That just speaks to me. THis books explores math by looking for patterns, symmetries, andnumber combinations and guides students through an inquiry into how math works.

Just Because--I just love the stories, illustrations, authors, concepts, and overall amazingness of both of these books.  This is just pure books love.

10. Albert by Donna Jo Napoli

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Sunday, August 4, 2013

[#113texts] Mentor Text Submission--Thinking in Numbers by Daniel Tammet

For my first #113texts Mentor Text Challenge post, I am going out on a limb, out of the box, out of... something. This isn't a typical mentor text for me, nor is this a typical mentor text post. But then again, the #113texts Mentor Text Challenge isn't typical either, now is it?

Caveat: I am not currently teaching in a classroom, and haven't had a chance to use this text with more than a group of two. Typically, for this challenge, I'd suggest sharing a text you've used and including student work. I'll share some of those, too. 

I discovered this book while roaming around a large bookstore-that-shall-not-be-named. In fact, I knocked a pile of these books off of a table and ended up carrying one around the store with me for a bit. I ended up leaving it there and getting the e-book edition at home, but taking it for a walk in the store was enough to set my pea brain to thinking. That, and I remember my dear SI Fellow-WRG-group-member Cynthia asking specifically for texts that could be used in the upper grades. And Mindy who helps us all remember the importance of math as we learn in SDAWP. Hey Cynthia and Mindy--how about this one?  And Kim, didn't you mention a book like this, or even this exact one? Why didn't I read it right then?

Enough fanfare, let me begin...

I have an unreasonable fear of math. It strikes me as a kind of magic that some people can do and that I cannot. Or a language similar to that of the Swedish chef on the Muppets.

I want to speak the language, do the magic, and I might be able to with the right teaching, but as of right now my brain still shuts right down when math approaches. Any math. Even addition.

This book is written by someone that speaks the language of math, but in a format that I can access--words. As we continue to explore the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in ELA and Math, we will be looking for texts that provide complexity, opportunities for deep reading, opportunities to take learning across more than one text, and that allow for students to do more than give us one single right answer. We are also asking teachers across the content areas to focus on reading, writing, speaking, and listening. I say, let's also thread the content areas into each other and into our ELA classes. Enter... Thinking In Numbers: On Life, Love, Meaning, and Math by Daniel Tammet.

Just look at the Table of Contents and consider the possibilities:
  • Family Values
  • Eternity in an Hour
  • Counting to Four in Icelandic
  • Proverbs and Times Tables
  • Shapes of Speech
  • On Big Numbers
  • The Novelists Calculus
  • Selves and Statistics

I spent some time with one chapter in particular--Chapter Four: Proverbs and Times Tables.I was thinking in terms of the possibility of using this with younger students as they learn multiplication and with older students who may be struggling with number sense or math concepts.  Don't get me wrong, this text is complex and will be a challenge for may grade levels, but rather than look at  what we can't do with it, let's look at what we can do. Try these excerpts from Chapter Four on for size:

Narrative Non-Fiction:
"I once had the pleasure of discovering a book wholly dedicated to the art of proverbs. It was in one of the municipal libraries that I frequented as a teenager. The title of the book escapes me now, the name of its author too, but I still recall the little shiver of excitement I felt as my fingers caressed its quarto pages. " 

"One hundred proverbs, give or take, sum up the essence of a culture; one hundred multiplication facts compose the tens times tables. Like proverbs, these numerical truths or statements--two times two is four, or seven times six equals forty-two--are always short, fixed and pithy. Why then do they not stick in our heads as proverbs do?

"But they did before, some people claim. When? In the good old days, or course. Today's children, they suggest, are simply too slack-brained to learn correctly. Nothing interests them but sending one another text messages and harassing the teacher. The critics hark back to those days before computers and calculators; to the time when every number was drummed into children's heads til finding the right answer became second nature."

These three short excerpts could provide opportunities for close reading for many grade level--as young as third grade, I'd say. Yes, there are some structures that are difficult, some vocabulary they may not know. Perfect, right? And each excerpt above, from each CCSS text type, is rich in discussion and writing opportunities--discussion centered around proverbs, learning, math, and perception. 

Let's go a step further and examine an excerpt where Tammet discusses math as the essence of knowledge:

'The facts in a multiplication table represent the essence of our knowledge of numbers: the molecules of math. They tell us how many dimes make up a dollar (10 x 10), the number of squares on a chessboard (8 x 8), the quantity of individual surfaces on a trio of boxes (3 x 6). They help us divide fifty-six items among eight people (7 x 8 = 56, therefore 56/8 = 7), or realize that forty-three of something cannot be evenly distributed in the same way (because forty-three, being a prime number, makes no appearance among the facts)."

Let's just pull out the math vocabulary in this short paragraph: square, quantity, surface, trio, divide, evenly, distributed, prime number. Are one or more of these vocabulary words found in your grade level curriculum? I think, perhaps, yes. 

After a close reading of this text, imagine the discussion opportunities! Imagine a classroom full of eager elementary school students--eager to make those odd and personal connections to each topic we introduce.  Where could they take these concepts? Either in isolation (proverbs and then multiplication tables) or together (learning proverbs vs. learning multiplication tables), this discussion could really go somewhere. Our kiddos wouldn't leave the discussion with a correct answer, but would their brains be buzzing?  Would they be buzzing about things we want them to buzz about?

How about in a high school English class? The CCSS demands that content area teachers incorporate reading, writing, speaking, listening into their lessons.  What if an upper level English class incorporated some math? What would happen? 

All of this from just one chapter. A. Maze.Ing.

Here is a summary of this text for the #113texts challenge:

  • Title and Author
Thinking In Numbers: On Life, Love, Meaning, and Math by Daniel Tammet
  • Text Type and Genre

  • Approximate Reading Level and/or Appropriate Grades
Excerpts could be used for younger grades.  Chapters for high grades. 
  • The ways in which YOU have used the text successfully with as much detail as you can.
I have not yet used this text with students, which sort of breaks the rules. Anyone have some students I can borrow?
  • Some excerpts from the book that exemplify the writer’s craft or other writerly tools
See above

[Photo A Day] August Break and Symmetry

A colleague of mine began the August Break 2013 on her blog. I like the idea of making a commitment to posting a photo a day and using that opportunity to reinvigorate your blogging. I am already taking part in a photo-a-day activity with the San Diego Area Writing Project on their blog (which I, ahem, help to administrate), and don't think I can keep track of two topics a day.  So...  I decided to combine the two--August Break 2013 (#augustbreak2013) using SDAWP Voices (#sdawpphotovoices) themes!

What does that mean for you?  I means I'll be posting photos each day and they may or may not have words that go with them.

The #sdawpphotovoices list of weekly themes is posted each month on Today is the last day of "symmetry" and tomorrow starts a week of "curves".

I have an odd relationship with symmetry. As a sewist, I try to create symmetry in my work. When I walk around the world I notice symmetry and want to capture it on whatever device I have with me at the time. But I have an equal affinity for discord (don't ask my parents about this), and I LOVE the look of a pop of color or shape in the middle of symmetry. I love the juxtaposition of symmetry and discord. With that in mind I went through my phone photos looking for symmetry. Most of the photos below have a symmetry to them, but a measure of discord as well--either with their surroundings or within the photo itself.

And then I looked at my recent sewing projects and see a similar theme. 

Indulge me for a moment, whilc I apply this visual bent of mine to my work in education... I am an out-of-the-box thinker by nature.  Call it Pisces, call it liberal upbringing, call it creativity run amok. I just don't see things in packages that align with whatever underlying structure is at play. Of course I'd like to see this as innovation or true genius, but I think it's just exactly what it sounds like. I don't see things in structures and sometimes that leads to good ideas and sometimes it leads to a series of quizzical looks and shrugged shoulders. I have learned--am still learning--when to voice these discordant ideas and when to hold onto them. I haven't perfected this skill yet.  I may never.

Both in my new work in educational leadership and in my classrooms, I work to provide structure, or symmetry in my environment. Clear organization, color-coding, classroom procedures.  All of these in order to provide a field for my own crazy ideas and those of my students.  The structure is the guideline inside of which we can have utter freedom. 

So, that is my journey through symmetry with punctuations of philosophy. How does symmetry fall in to your life?  Your teaching?  Your leadership?

By the way, watch out--next week is curves. I loves me some curvy lines and swirls, so I'm thinking this will be a prolific week for me!