Carl's Teaching Blog

A place to talk about teaching and learning

Category: Conversations (Page 1 of 2)

TL;DR: Chris Emdin is a really good speaker

Thursday was Brooklyn-Queens day, the NYC-specific holiday that excuses students from school, and gives the teachers a professional development day. Our school was attended the 7th annual Transfer School Conference along a thousand or so other transfer school educators. These are high schools that serve kids who needed to transfer from their original high school for many dozen reasons. Our schools are spread out all around the city, so there was lots of warm greetings among distant friends as we filed into the auditorium of Brandeis High School for the keynote.

My colleague and I were talking about the conference when I saw that the opening keynote would be delivered by Chris Emdin. Chris Emdin is a rising figure in education who recently secured a position at Columbia, speaking gigs at TED, SXSW Ed and every in between, and a New York Times best seller. When I saw his face looking out at me from the program, I immediately rolled my eyes. His research is great, and his #HipHopEd message is important, and I heard he was  a dynamic speaker, but I was skeptical. On that morning, I figured he would be talking at an elementary level, giving the stock overview of his recent book. I had just left a session about technology that I already knew about, so internally I wasn’t very excited. However, I was probably as excited as most teachers are at a school PD. Whatever discernable excitement seemed to leave the room once the organziers called for people to stop their side conversations and find a seat.

Emdin stepped up to the podium, checked the sound and began to talk about the importance of the work of transfer schools, but also the need for us to really think about the work we do. He quickly won me over with his opening statement about the meaning of the word “Transfer”. As educators we need need to be constantly changing, or “tranferring” ourselves as we face new students, new challenges, and new opportunities. This process should specifically broaden our ability to allow students to bring their culture into the classroom and the school and see their culture validated and connected to learning. This all resonated with our school’s vision, and my colleague next to me was on board as well. It wasn’t clear if the rest of the crowd had gotten interested.

Emdin left the podium and began walking across the stage seeking to engage more listeners. He defined what he calls #HipHopEd. No, it didn’t involve having kids write lyrics about quadratics, or synthetic division, but more about teachers actively seeking to understand and embrace their student’s culture. He doesn’t profess to actually liking all of the music the kids listen to these days (he’s more into Biggie than Kodak Black), but he is aware of it. Educators should study the culture of their students and recognize when you’re operating from a “perch of superiority.” I took away that teachers quest for respectability in the classroom can quickly turn into a culture battle, when just as quickly it could turn into a chance to understand the cultural gap and seek to bridge it by bringing the student’s culture into the classroom As educators begin Emdin’s “Transfer” work, it sounds like the first place to start is with yourself, and with your relationship to the culture of the student’s you serve. He was very passionate at this point, but I took my eyes away to write the following in my Evernote: “HipHop Ed is about changing yourself to meet the needs of the community you serve.”

Emdin distilled his message with clearer and starker language as the talk went on. Like explaining something to a kid who keeps getting the wrong answers, no matter how many examples you create. Maybe we weren’t a good crowd. It seemed like no one disagreed with him, but we weren’t jumping on our feet either (at least not yet). It was probably that Emdin was really, genuinely worried that we wouldn’t leave there inspired. Deep down he knows the important work we do, and he was going to keep pumping us with energy until he was sure that we knew it too. This conference was not his only possible speaking gig for this PD day, and it certainly wasn’t the most lucrative. He jumped on this conference because he’d rather be with people doing this kind of work. His passion showed as he veered pretty far off script. We only went through 3 of his prepared slides! Instead he crafted new ways to describe the urgency of the problems we face and the solutions that are within our grasp. Stories, analogies, and metaphors kept coming rapid fire, followed by incrementally increasing applause.

Emdin then stepped down from the stage. At this point he was striding back and forth in front of the orchestra pit, pausing to emphasize key points. One point was about acts of violence done to students by our education system. The acts of violence that happen to students who leave the school system thinking there are limits on what they can become, that their community is garbage, and only some far away privileged group can pursue their dreams. This is not physical or verbal violence, but perhaps more damaging. These kind of messages can be heaped upon kids by some bad teachers, but also by unwitting good teachers. If you’re a good person, working for a bad system, and can’t direct students away from that systemic harm, then you’re condoning the ‘violence’ being done to these students. Good people can unwittingly do bad things, or lead to bad results. It’s a tough message to hear, but opens up a useful line of thinking. What kinds of things can I do as a teacher to disrupt the systems that hurt our students?

Emdin began walking further and further along the front of the stage and eventually up into the crowd. More and more of the crowd nodding along, more and more fits of applause. Someone even stood up and screamed!

By the time his talk came to a close, Emdin had the crowd’s support regardless of what people heard. This was very real because the last 5 minutes of his talked was peppered with interruptions that knocked out his audio for 10-15 seconds while someone tested the building’s PA system. He would be part way through delivering his final words when “BEEEEP….*click* ‘Test… Test… ‘ *click*.” Whoever was doing it did not know that it was during the keynote. Emding would have start back up again, summarizing everything he talked about, but before he could finish another interruption would stop his audio. We went through at least four of these interruptions, and each one was more visibly defeating. He got back on the stage, back behind the podium, and evem took off his microphone altogether. Then he said his final words and looked at the crowd, exhausted. He was then met with the longest standing ovation that I’ve ever seen at a PD.

Emdin didn’t sell any books after his session. If he had an organized book signing at a table nearby he would have sold dozens, but he wasn’t there for that. Instead he came from behind the stage and chatted it up with anybody who could talk to him until his ride came. The talk made me want to read Emdin’s new book after I finish all this other reading I have to do. That means he definitely won at least one educator over, because before today, I was not interested. After talking to teachers at my school the next day, I’m pretty sure he won over a hefty portion of the audience as well. Pretty cool PD.

Get your 2017 blogging off on the right foot with #MTBoSblogsplosion

Happy 2017 #MTBoS!! With every new year comes the opportunity to commit yourself to positive habits. If you navigated the series of tubes to this post, then you probably are interested in writing about math teaching and learning, or supporting those who do. For people who plan to start 2017 blogging, or people who want to them on, I present a individualized, flexible initiative, to support writers and streamline process for readers who follow along. It’s the #MTBoSblogsplosion!

Why #MTBoSblogsplosion?

It’s been shown that the practice of writing reflective helps one think deeper and helps the brain make connections. The collective blog posts can form an accurate snapshot of teaching and education in a world where the realities of the classroom can be lost beneath messages from people outside of education. When initiatives like this take place, it affords the opportunity for writers and readers to have real conversations, helping to strengthen the bonds that make the #MTBoS such a wonderful place.

What is the #MTBoSblogsplosion?

Simply put, bloggers will decide the kind of blogging they can commit to, then they will blog, and all of it will be shared on social media with the hashtag #MTBoSblogsplosion so others can follow along.

You can think about it as a 3 step process. Step 1 is to make a commitment to a realistic amount of blogging. Maintaining work-life balance isn’t easy, and the #MTBoSblogsplosion isn’t trying to force that to be much harder. Choose the kind of blogging commitment that makes sense to you. Start with a regular Frequency such as:

  • Daily
  • Weekly
  • Monthly
  • Twice each fort-night
  • Three times a week unless my kid doesn’t go down for their nap on the weekend
  • Something else?

Then you may want to choose a duration, or how long you want this to go. Maybe the month of January would work for you? Maybe you want to take it through February vacation, go for it! Do you only want to dip your toes in the water and go for two weeks? That’s also great!

Finally, you may want to focus your writing. Here you want to think about whether you want to document what is going on in your class, maybe you want to write about the different tasks that you’ve been working on, maybe you want to discuss your new role as department chair. It may help people to write with prompts, if so you can do that. Here are prompts and some other ideas:

  • The 2016 Blogging Initiative blog prompts are here. Great for beginners!
  • Teachthought.com has a full month of prompts around teacher gratitude
  • Summaries of books and NCTM Journal articles
  • Taking a picture of student work each day
  • Isolating and describing a memorable teacher-student interaction
  • Describing classroom activities that you would like feedback on
  • Are there other prompts?

If it doesn’t help you to have a focus, then don’t pressure yourself, feel free to leave it open.

So now you’ve got a commitment. You’ve decided an amount, a duration, and a focus. Step 2 is to share your commitment. Twee this out as a nice sentence so readers can know what you’re trying to do, and cheer you on! For example:

  • “Starting today I’m going to blog twice a week until Feb 1 about ways I can support my students. #mtbosblogsplosion”
  • “This month, I’ll write posts every school day (even if they’re short) about teaching and learning. #mtbosblogsplosion”
  • “For my New years resolution, I’m writing twice monthly, about a book or article that I’ll read,#mtbosblogsplosion”

After that initial tweet comes Step 3, start blogging!  Each time you post, tweet out a link along with the hashtag #mtbosblogsplosion.

And now the final step… Step 4 is to read and support others. The best part of initiatives like this is the positive energy and support you can get to reach your goals. Help generate and spread this energy by reading and leaving comments for other #MTBoSblogsplosion posts. This is a step that people can do even if they skipped the first 3 steps.

 

Explaining my lack of “help”-fulness

This year our school is talking about student work in mixed groups. We have been placed into 7 groups of teachers and social workers, each of whom are related to one student. After each session, the teacher bringing the work gets ideas for their teaching, and the group gains insights into the student and how our work affects them. These conversations have only involved essays so far, but this past Friday I was the presenter.

Due to realities of our schedule I provided a student’s partially finished math project for our descriptive inquiry group to look through. It was a project where the student had to create a set of equations that then help her solve a larger problem. The student make a mistake early on in the assignment and continued finishing the work, not being able to see that answers stopped making any sense. The discussion about this did not just allow for us to talk about the student. It allowed the members of the group a chance to step into a math teachers shoes and decide to how to respond to student misconception.

Talking about this student’s work flared up and we ended up having to scrap the rest of the inquiry protocol. The issue that broke our group apart happened after I explained the project and everyone gave their initial impressions. Someone noticed that the student made the a mistake. “The student should have multiplied these answers by x,” the teacher stated, referring to the column with numbers far to small to make sense in the situation, “so the teacher should show them what correct answer should be.” I began to feel a little uncomfortable. My instincts say the first thing to do would be to understand why the student made the mistake. I would need to ask a series of questions before I gave any kind of instruction. Thesequestions would intend to help the student to understand why the need to correct it, not to correct the multiplication, thus preventing the student from making sense of the problem.

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It’s Time To Talk More About Mental Illness

Today is the last day in May, which means it would be the last of my #MTBoS30 posts, if I hadn’t missed like 17 days. My ‘drafts’ are full of posts of half written nuggets of ideas that didn’t make it into a full fledged post once life got in the way. There is one post that has been there longer than any of the others. It’s the one that is the closest to completion, and will probably be the longest and most personal thing I’ve written. It currently has the working title of “Bipolar post.” and it details my whole story with mental illness. This is not that post. My hesitation in posting about my mental illness is stems from my fear of the stigma our society has around mental illness.

May is also National Mental Health month. The National Alliance on Mental Illness has been running a campaign all month about the importance of getting rid of the stigma surrounding Mental Illness. The stigma around mental illness shows up at the dinner table, in the halls of government, and in numerous places in our society. People seeking treatment for mental illness must plan as much for the negative labels around their condition as they do for the medication they will take to treat it. It’s a big problem, especially among people who deal with youth. Here is Mayim Bialik, former keynote speaker at NCTM Annual 2013, talking about the campaign:

Stopping use of harmful words is one thing, and it’s important. What I want to advocate for, is to take it a step further. If you’re one of the 1 in 5 people who are affected by Mental Illness, I would say that it would be good to share your story with someone. The most recent time I did this was with a student who we had admitted to the hospital and was returning to school. I also try to make it a point to do this whenever I hear someone use the term ‘Bipolar’ as an adjective. Whenever I have shared my story, I’ve found that it resonates with more than just 1 in 5 people, and it also leads to a good conversation, and a better, broader picture of what Mental Illness is.

Now you may be asking yourself, “Why is Carl advocating for this when he can’t even put his ‘Bipolar post’ live on the site?” I’m asking myself that too. I feel like I have a lot to talk about in terms of mental illness based on my experience, but then if I do I know people will look at me with ‘that look’. So sometimes throttling back and not telling the whole story is a good first step. It’s a start. That’s why this post is about starting. It’s not about putting yourself all the way out there all at once. It’s about taking one little small step.

Talking about Common Core at a Wedding

Yesterday I was at a great wedding for a friend of mine (Congratulations Kevin and Jessica!). While I was there, a friend of mine asked about Common Core and I suddenly couldn’t stop talking about it. The standards situation is likely to come up at any point when I’m outside of my education circles (this time it came up about 15 minutes after toast). It doesn’t seem like an open bar and loud pop music are a good back drop to discuss the intersection between theory, practice, and bureacracy, but I think I did a good job.

My main points were the following, and be sure to let me know if I’m not making sense in the comments below:

  • Standards are the best description we have of how students should learn math in the grades K through 12. While debate about the implementation, or the assessment, or the marketing could be debated the content of standards are solid. Considering the years of trying to change math class it’s the best shot we have at making real serious progress right now and should be fully implemented (in writing this I realize I was basically channeling Matt Larson’s great ignite talk).
  • CCSS-M is written by great people who have brilliant ideas of what should be going on in classrooms.  My buddy asked “do you even know who writes the standards?” suggesting that the standards were thrown together by special interest groups and not teachers. The authors are super-smart and they are around teachers all the time at NCTM and other conferences, and they always say brilliant stuff (like Phil Daro here on Answer getting).
  • The Common Core is suffering from a marketing problem. I think anyone can write anything, regardless of how little sense it makes, and put “aligned with Common Core on there” and face little conflict.  Common Core is the kind of project that didn’t really have all of the lawyers needed to attack publishers and school districts for intellectual property or trademark violations, (at least I think this is true) so it is possible for someone to put out some garbage that anyone could windup on some parents dining room table who could end up making a #STOPCOMMONCORE Facebook post.

We talked through the throwing of the bouquet and when we stopped at the the cutting of the cake and I thought that was the end of it. What I said in my last post was true, as he was obviously mulling this over in his head. After the cake was being plated my friend came back over and said, “So we need to take less funding from military and for more funding for Common Core’s marketing department?” I kind of agreed, but then I said no. What needs to happen is we just need to trust schools, researchers and teachers what are doing the hard work of education and stop second-guessing them every time things get scary. The military budget would be great, but this change doesn’t cost any money at all. Give schools the time, space, and respect they needs to attempt big changes and big shifts, otherwise don’t be surprised when things remain traditional.

I started back into a rant mode, arguing “You won’t see people question doctors and their medical practices, but when it’s a teacher it’s a whole different story…”, but we were interrupted. The DJ put Taylor Swift on and the bride was making the groom dance to it with her (I might have danced a little too). I know there are much more things to say about common core, but this is what I could put together yesterday. Let me know in the comments if I missed anything.

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