It's Elementary!

by Jamie Forrest

Ideas, experts and eight-year olds October 7, 2010

Filed under: Class reflections,eci831 — Jamie @ 11:31 pm

In preparation for this week’s class, I watched Steven Johnson’s video “Where Good Ideas Come From.”

There were a few thoughts that struck me enough to write them down while watching:

  • An idea is a network – This struck me because, as a teacher, I have studied how people learn.  I have discovered that many people, including myself, learn by talking to others.  We have thoughts that are glimpses of the big idea we are trying to create and grasp.  We talk to others and these thoughts become more clear with each time we share it and get feedback.  Although it is still MY thought, it has become an idea based on the back and forth, the reworking of it.  This is true even if the sharing of it is only with ourselves through journaling.  Each time we think it, write it, type it, speak it, and revisit it, we refine it.  This becomes a network.
  • Ideas are not a-ha moments, but a conglomeration of thoughts – Following from the thoughts above, most of our ideas don’t just “appear”.  It may feel that way sometimes because after all the networking, all the parts finally become clear.
  • The car-part incubator – I loved this piece in the video.  So often, I find it difficult to explain to parents that why, when they get 100% on a set of addition questions, they still only get average marks on their report card.  It is because the child can only add when it is written in a certain format.  If I ask them to APPLY that knowledge in a different situation, a different setting, that is where we see a true understanding.  This incubator segment showed that so well!  Yes, when we have all the money, technology and resources, we can keep a baby warm.  But taking that knowledge and using what is available makes for true understanding!  I realize that this was perhaps not the point the author of the video was trying to make, but this is why it struck me.
  • Chance favours the connected mind – I love this quote.  It struck me on a very personal note.  Since I started blogging a little over a year ago, here, and since joining Twitter about six months ago, I have felt like I have become really “connected.”  Although I have literally connected virtually with hundreds of people and ideas during this time, those interactions have helped me become more connected with the people in my school.  I read more, I share more, I show my excitement more.  Because I have started sharing with colleagues, students, and parents, I have truly had chance favour me.  I have received countless positive notes from all three thanking me for all that I am doing for them.  I have been featured in the director’s Communique for our division.  I have become the “go-to” person on my staff for K-5 knowledge, not just tech stuff.  Just yesterday, I had the courage to put my name out there as a potential Teacher Librarian and it was received with “That is GREAT news!”  I have had support come in all shapes and forms and I feel great.

This video also left me with some questions…  but I’m going to hold off on those and talk a bit about our class with Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach on Tuesday night as many of the questions that arose from there are similar.

So, again, while in class, I jotted down some notes while in class:

  • None of us is as good as all of us – This reflects Johnson’s idea that ideas are a network.  We can create better things if we work together.
  • Community is a collective based on practice, a network is individual centered – A number of years ago my system instituted mandatory PLCs, or Professional Learning Communities.  This was an opportunity for teachers to get together within the school, or across schools to hash out some task that was directed by the higher-ups.  Many teachers, at the time, did not like these PLCs.  Often the “task” didn’t match the questions that we wanted to discuss.  Teachers felt that the topics of discussion, the tasks, should come from the teachers, or the COMMUNITY themselves.  This makes sense, given Sheryl’s definition of community.  PLCs have morphed into more of this vision.  The tasks that we are now given to discuss are based on the difficulties that our particular communities are experiencing.  Common difficulties lead to common goals which leads to common practice.  On the flip side, we have networks.  These are the people I go to when I have a problem.  I go one person when I have a question about a physical education skill, I go to another person when I talk books, I go to a third when I have trouble with a parent.  These are my network of people.  Many of them are the same people as in my community, but focus shifts from we to me.
  • knowledge for practice, knowledge in practice, knowledge of practice – These three levels of knowledge really stuck with me…  The first, knowledge for practice is the reading up on the theory or listening to a speaker about the theory and practice.  This is where we start to lay the groundwork, get some of the background knowledge, start finding ways we can incorporate it into our practice.  The second level of knowledge, in practice, is the learning that we do while actually trying the theory or tool.  This is where we start learning what works for us and what doesn’t work for us.  The third level, knowledge of practice, is where we start sharing this knowledge with others.  This is a level where we know it well enough to teach someone else.  This made total sense to me in my own teaching practice!  Then it got me thinking about my own classroom.  My lessons are often structured around this philosophy.  My lessons often start with “I do” where my students are watching me work through the problem, read a story, identify the patterns, whatever it is that we are doing.  This is the part of my lesson where my students are gaining knowledge for practice.  They are learning the vocabulary and skills that they need to move to the next level.  The next part of my lesson is “We do.”  This is where my students are trying the work on their own, with me there to support and guide them.  They are experimenting, trying out the strategies, trying to understand what works for them and what doesn’t.  Then finally, the “you do” part of my lesson where the students try things on their own and “teach” their classmates how they figured it out and why they did it that way.  It is when my students are able achieve this last level of knowledge that I know they have truly understood.

So this brings me to Sheryl’s big 3 questions:  How will education be different tomorrow because of our meeting today?  How will you use it?  How will you share it?  I’m not 100% sure yet the answers to these questions.  I know that I want to better prepare my students to work in a community rather than in competition with each other.  I know that I want to teach them the skills to create their own network of learning, even if at 8 years old, it may be small.  I know that I want to create a meeting place in my classroom where ideas can form, grow, connect and blossom.  In order to do that, I want to take the time to get to really know my students.  I want to find the one thing that makes them an expert and exploit that in my classroom.  I want to highlight those strengths so that my students both feel confident and can begin to create their network of learning in the classroom.  They are too young to create a PLN online, so it will have to do in the classroom for now.  Learning those skills now will hopefully spur the students to apply them when they ARE old enough.  I want to value all the ideas brought forth in my classroom and challenge my students to push them further.  Aside from Steven and Sheryl, I just started reading Strengths Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath who underlines the same thing, creating experts on your staff makes for a happier environment and a more productive one.

So, after all that, my question to you:  How would you suggest I foster these philosophies in a classroom of young children?


4 Responses to “Ideas, experts and eight-year olds”

  1. Alan Stange Says:

    I face the same challenge with my grade five and six room. I introduced three forums for social networking in our classroom. They extend the plan I have adopted over the last three years. I have a classroom wikispace and student wikispaces. Digital portfolios have been developed from there. My students have division-provided email accounts. Finally, I established a classroom forum using grou’ps. Students blog, chat, and post media there. No single application works for us so I think you may find you need to explore all of your ideas. All the sites are linked to the wikipage.

  2. courosa Says:

    I love that you took these two pieces (the video & the class) and worked to make relationships between them. Thanks for sharing the big points – this post is very useful!

    Well done, Jamie!

  3. tamurray Says:

    I agree with the thinking of Alan Strange in his comment. I introduce multiple tools to my students and encourage their use. Many students select some of them and become experts incorporating their use in other areas of their life. Some never touch them outside of the required assignments which is sad to me.

    Connected community is a useful tool to me. I have used Twitter for a couple of years and during this time my knowledge of tools (and content and other cultures) has grown exponentially. Most of my co-workers are not willing to give this useful tool a try. However, I continue to persevere. I share much of what I find with my co-workers. I have rethought many of my own ideas about education and goals based upon the expanded view that I have been exposed to. I think this is a good thing and contributes to my continued growth.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Reflection is a good thing.

    • Jamie Says:

      Hi tamurray. Thanks for the comment. I too have experienced the same frustrations with a luke-warm reception (at best) from my staff about most of the tools I’ve been using. Many of them were looking for a website that they could plunk the kids down in front of and not worry anymore. However, in the two years since I have jumped onto the technology train, I see more and more use of technology in the classroom. I know of three other teachers on staff who have a blog. I see kids creating videos and podcasts. The problem with introducing a lot of the social media to our students, especially at the elementary level, is fear. You can read a really thoughtful post about this subject from one of my #eci831 classmates here. Again, thanks for sharing. I feel like I am learning so much!

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