Curriculum, Must-Reads, Professional Development

BOMish: Jan 2020 {“All Things Being Equal”}

book-of-the-month (1)

All Things Being Equal: Why Math is the Key to a Better World

math
[Photo from Penguin Random House Publishing]
  • The Stats: 304 Pages, published January 2020
  • Who Should Read It: New and veteran teachers to math and anyone wanting to be inspired and/or rethink their relationship with math!
  • My Rating (out of 5 ♥): ♥♥♥♥
  • My Thoughts: All Things Being Equal is part social justice manifesto, part growth mindset companion reader, and part practical guidebook. Author and founder of the Jump Math program, John Mighton, is a self-described late-bloomer in math and has himself grown from math-queasy to a mathemetician in his 30s. Mighton has an approachable tone and brings you along easily into some of the math “traps” students and teachers can fall into. For instance, Mighton is a true believer that anyone can learn math and that it’s often just taught in ways that are inaccessible or relies heavily memorization without the fundamentals (which make the most sense). Mighton spoke to me especially in his beliefs of not creating “low floor, high ceiling” problems, but rather, aiming to get the entire class to succeed. He advocates for this by breaking down math problems into their simplest, easiest to understand forms- something he notes few teachers generally take the time to do, favouring what seems like a more efficient route, but leaving many students behind in the process. Indeed, Mighton convinced me that students who already know the steps won’t be bored in this process either, as they have time to practice and apply, or the opportunity to mentor students along the way.  Further, Mighton’s approach also includes myriad reasons why math is imporant. While I didn’t need convincing, his passion for math as a subject in and of itself, and the success with which students can realize within math pedagody in particular, is an admirable one (check it) and further reinforced my belief in strong, inclusive math programs. The book makes the most sense within the context of the Jump Math program, founded by Mighton himself. I recommend this book without reservation for your 2020 reading list, however, to get the most out of it, make sure to carve out time to investigate the Jump Math website, resources, and/or webinars. 
Curriculum, Educational Theory

Of Whales and Wood-Chopping: Personal Musings on Emergent Curriculum

Emergent curriculum is the idea of powerful, personal learning in which what is taught is most relevant as a result and an extension of a child’s own experiences and connections. It is typically closely associated with (the fabulous) schools with Reggio Emilia approaches and often references Vygotsky’s theory of social constructivism.

Photo from NAEYC

I found myself twirling around notions of emergent curriculum in a somewhat meta fashion and reflected on my own experiences of emergent learning and growth as an educator and learner in many contexts. Have a peek at some of my musings:

I have powerful and vivid memories of stumbling across a 5-ft marine worm when taking a school group tide pooling in Kachemak Bay in Alaska; I remember standing in the foot of the boat I worked on as a marine science educator watching a grey whale and her calf breech repeatedly next to us, making what I could have sworn was eye contact. I’m reminded of azure skies above the Tetons and laughing until our bellies hurt with a group of students from rural Wyoming. I’m reminded of smiles shared over steaming cups of tea in a barn, my Ama beaming with pride over my corn-kerneling skills- she a woman from rural Nepal and I a young woman with Scandinavian roots, both somehow adept at the same skill, despite little, even a language, in common. I’ve been extraordinarily lucky to have been a student of place and to be mesmerized by the magic of unknown.

Though, these were big, in-your face and “obvious” moments of learning underscored by awe. I’ve omitted from my musings some the moments of frustration and things gone “wrong” in days before and after those moments- of plans falling through, or students/parents/colleagues/administrators with whom I was frustrated (or in turn, frustrated myself). I’ve also omitted any classroom scenarios as well as many other memories in which experiences I was SURE would generate wonder, amazement, curiosity, and general poignancy in fact fell flat for one reason or another. Perhaps the memories I listed were ones in which I felt wholly present and connected in a time and space with others- a moment in which I felt significant yet small, aware of the grandness of the world but also the improbability of it all. There’s simply no way I had any control over these moments beyond setting up an experience and trusting and stumbling, as the text said, in the unknown.

I’m currently in the throes of marathon training, a seemingly masochistic activity, but something that makes me feel grounded and connected, while humbled. “Chop wood, carry water” is a phrase those in the endurance community use to describe the mundane or otherwise unextraordinary work we tend to do in between the flashy or even the sorrowful work. One great workout will not promise me a fast race; a bad workout will not guarantee a slow race. Rather, the sum efforts of showing up, trying new things, and trusting in the one known- that I am capable of coming out on the other side in any workout- is what makes the magic possible. Chop wood, carry water. Perhaps it’s the same way in teaching: that the act of balancing our knowns, our structures, and our continued act of showing up set the stage on which the magic will be performed. A stellar field trip is not enough to ensure a school year of vibrant learning and engagement, though one botched lesson on neutrons surely isn’t enough to derail it all. Chop wood, carry water, allow the magic.

  • Where have you seen emergent curriculum successfully implemented?
  • What are some of your own ideas on emergent curriculum?
Curriculum, Professional Development

Reflections on Updating Teaching Credentials, BC’s New Curriculum, and the Philosophy of the Perfect Stranger

Earlier this year, I became an official Permanent Resident of British Columbia, having spent the last several years travelling internationally for my career in global education and prior to that, as a classroom teacher in Colorado.

My move to Canada coincided with a relatively recent curricular change across British Columbia, one that arguably moves B.C. to more appropriately prepare learners for the 21st century and incorporates a more progressive definition of learning and the processes of learning. The changes in the curriculum include philosophical and structural changes, as well as the language used throughout (ex: Assessment AS learning vs. Assessment OF learning).

I cannot speak to the previous curriculum, however, I’ve become quickly acquainted with the new curriculum this year. {As a noteworthy aside, my teaching experience and credentials were not recognized by B.C. Teacher Regulation Branch, and I have been in the process of undergoing teacher certification through the University of British Columbia (UBC). At first, admittedly, it was a tough pill to swallow returning to school for another Bachelor’s degree in a subject I already have a Bachelor’s and Master’s in, however, I am very grateful the for the opportunity to have this extended and personalized professional development. I am thoroughly enjoying being on the student end of things again and highly recommend the Teacher Education Program at UBC. We could all use a professional tune-up at someone point in our professional careers!}

But– enough about me! Let’s talk curriculum.

When I moved to B.C. and became involved and connected in education circles, I often heard references to “the new curriculum,” but struggled to find a fully comprehensive document that gave quick, digestible information about the specific changes. The most helpful article I came across that spoke to (and answered!) my questions was a blog post from the Centre for Innovation and Excellence in Learning at Vancouver Island University. The post details the 5 major changes of B.C.’s new curriculum and these include the following:

  • 6 Core Competencies [photo 1]
  • Concept-Based Competencies [photos 2 & 3]
  • Graduation Assessments (for Secondary)
  • Competency-Based Assessment (aka- Assessment as Learning)
  • Aboriginal Knowledge and Ways of Knowing

{For a slightly more comprehensive but still easily digestible resource, the B.C. Teacher’s Federation also put out a very helpful, easily navigable online magazine detailing the 2016 curriculum changes in depth. Check it out!}

Overall, all of these changes support inquiry-based learning and prepare learners how to think and problem-solve versus simply memorizing information and/or having success on exams. The shifts move students towards processes of learning, rather than the assessment of learning. The curricular changes align so well with my teaching philosophies, and what I’ve been equally impressed with is the freedom with which teachers can and do practice this curriculum.

Photo Courtesy of FNESC.ca

The most important learning I’ve engaged in this year has been unpacking what it means to decolonize curriculum, particularly through Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation initiatives. I have also seen what it means to open up a curriculum that includes different ways of knowing, particularly Indigenous knowledge and the First People’s Principles of Learning. This year has been particularly intense in a necessary way, as I’ve been exposed to and un-learned many structural and systemic ways of thinking that have been (and continue to be) oppressive and marginilizing, particularly to Indigenous Peoples. Two things have opened my eyes and served as guides for me with respect to how I can teach with more permanent social justice lens: the First People’s Principles of Learning (seen in the photo on the left), as well as as the notion of the Perfect Stranger.

The FPPoL are deeply embedded into the B.C. curriculum… and make so much sense for all learners, young and old, and regardless of cultural background. Included in these principles are philosophies on sacredness of knowledge, intergenerational learning, and cultivating a deep reverence for living things. Perhaps my favourite principle (though, they all resonate with me) is “Learning takes patience and time.” As teachers, so often, we are trying to fit everything in– every standard, every big idea, every assessment and then sit back and hope our students “get it”… when in reality, the concepts and ideas we introduce may not be able to take root until our students have more, different, or alternative life experiences. And that. is. okay. It is beautiful, in fact.

In addition to the FPPoL, another major (positive) disruption in my thinking came from Dr. Susan Dion, who is an Associate Professor of Education at York University in Toronto. Dion uses the phrase “perfect stranger” to describe the “safe” position many non-Indigenous educators can take when asked to teach from an Indigenous perspective (as the B.C. curriculum requires):

his position, a perfect stranger, allows teachers and actually all Canadians to be off the hook when it comes to thinking about Aboriginal issues, thinking about Aboriginal people, or the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. There was a desire to distance themselves from the issues and to say, this has nothing to do with me. 

Dr. Susan Dion, from https://vimeo.com/59543958

Dion’s words spoke to me and make me wonder if and how I have written something off as being irrelevant to me, or deciding to use my positionality at the expense of someone else who did not have the voice nor advantages I do. Definitely give Dion’s video a watch. It is an essential message for all educators.

  • What is some of the most impactful professional development you’ve undergone?
  • What does it mean to be a perfect stranger to you?