Friday, October 9, 2020

Silver Linings in Virtual Learning

    I always tell my students to look for the silver linings and to embrace the "A-ha" moments. While teaching and learning during the COVID-19 quarantine has been a little on the overwhelming side for both teachers and students, it has also put many of us (teachers) back in the students' chair, and for me, at least, keeps bringing me back to the core of what I love about teaching: LEARNING!

    And, wow, have my students and I been learning a lot! At Seabury, technology has always been an integral and integrated part of our classrooms, but now that is more true than it has ever been. Through this distance learning adventure, my students and I have been learning about and using all kinds of new online platforms and tools, and I just had to share this recent find and how my class has been using it.

    Apparently, there are plenty of techy teachers out there, and Seabury's own tech-whiz, 3rd-Grade teacher Mrs. Meads, has tapped into a Facebook group of teachers sharing awesome resources they have created using Google slides. She recently found and shared this one:

    This math enrichment slide has links to almost every cool math resource I have ever used in 10-years of gifted teaching. I've started customizing this by adding and updating a few links and I plan to add a few more of my favorites, but it was packed with good stuff from the beginning. There are links to fractals, the Fibonacci sequence, adventures in Pi, and links to tried and true math games from geniuses like Greg Tang Math (linked here to Kakooma - a WONDERFUL game for practicing math facts). There's Ken Ken, which is the first math enrichment resource I teach every year. I have taught Ken Ken to every grade from 1st through 5th. I call it "Sudoku with numbers and math equations." It is completely customizable to the right level of challenge for any student. And that is only the beginning of what can be accessed from this one math resource. Whoever created this slide - you are a wonderful teacher and THANK YOU for sharing! I can't believe things like this are being shared freely -- something like this will soon be monetized, I'm sure. (Shout out here to ALL of these wonderful teachers, companies and resources that are providing free accounts and resources for education right now!) 

    Then to develop some accountability, get some feedback, and generate some excitement about the resources on the math enrichment slide, I incorporated this program, Padlet, which allows students to "pin" items onto a virtual bulletin board. Students here shared which resource they liked after exploring the slide for the first time.

    I've been looking for resources like Padlet that allow students who are less comfortable sharing on Zoom to stay engaged and provide input, and I am finding quite a few -- and loving the results. Students who won't say a word in a Zoom meeting will blossom like flowers when they make a Flipgrid video, and these tools are helping us develop more classroom community.  I've also had students post the best resources they found when researching a particular subject in Padlets like this one, which is a great way to give students input and ownership of their own learning.

    So, yes, like every other teacher out there right now, I am working hard to overcome the obstacles we are facing in this new way of "doing school." Along the way, I am gaining a lot of new tools for my teaching toolkit, and the students are exploring some great technology tools and building their own technical repertoires as well. There ARE always silver linings!


Friday, September 18, 2020

Mathematical Myths and Mindsets

ANYONE can be good at math! And MISTAKES actually help your brain grow! Has your child told you that this week? Hopefully this has come up, as we spent the first few weeks of virtual school learning all about how having a growth mindset in math is key to success in this subject area. 

Students watched and discussed a series of videos created by Dr. Jo Boaler, Professor of Mathematical Education at Stanford University, which translates Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck's theories of growth vs. fixed mindset into math practices. These practices are designed to promote a growth mindset in math, banish math anxiety and bust some age-old myths about math. Those are ideas like: You have to be fast at math to be good at it. Math is a boring subject all about rote memorization which does not require any creativity. 

At Seabury, we know different! We have learned how the STRUGGLE to understand difficult math concepts, which can sometimes feel overwhelming and frustrating, is just a part of exercising your brain to "build your brain muscle." Students who look at that struggle as an exciting challenge, and persevere in trying to solve problems in different ways, demonstrate much higher levels of achievement in math than students who have memorized algorithms or processes without fully understanding what they are doing with the numbers. This idea of struggle being a GOOD thing is an important concept for gifted perfectionists, who often are not used to being challenged in their areas of strength, and often give up rather than take on a challenge they might not soar through. 

Thank you, Youcubed, for setting us up for a successful year of math exploration and growth! We are already enjoying inspirational math challenges like the Four 4's – part of the "week of inspirational math" on the Youcubed website. 5th graders used Zoom breakout rooms to collaborate on problem sets of 2s, 3s, 4,s and 5s to figure out how to make an equation with a given answer true. It was a great way to dust off our calculation skills and to explore the idea that there is more than one solution to a problem – and that struggling with mathematical thinking can be FUN! 

Here's what some students said about what they learned: 
"I changed my mind about mistakes. Mistakes are great! Mistakes can teach you math in ways some people can’t!" 
 "Yes, your brain grows when you make mistakes." 
 The most important thing I learned: 
"Don't listen to stereotypes." 
 "Math is more used than I thought." 
 "Always take the challenge." 
 "No one is born a math person." 
 "You have to think deeply about the material. It is ok not to be very fast. It is important to be creative." 

Welcome back, Seabury mathematicians!

Interested in learning more? Here's one of the videos we watched:

Monday, June 15, 2020

What is a System?

As we end this banner year, students have been reflecting on our overarching concept: Systems.
The class spent the year visiting local officials, business owners and non-profit organizations in our community to learn about government and civics and dived deep into the role that the Puget Sound plays in our community, learning about water as a resource, tracing stormwater outlets, thinking about the effects of humans on local water systems, and visiting local science-based organizations to learn about the life that exists in the water right next to us.

Students were asked to reflect on questions like:

  • What is a system?
  • What makes up a system?
  • What kinds of systems are involved in our daily lives?
  • How is a community a system?
  • How is ecology or marine biology part of a system?
Here's what several students had to say. I think they got it!

      A system is a set of things, people or businesses working together to create an interconnected network. A city is a system. It is made up of people that connect with each other. The citizens create a living environment for other citizens by making businesses or organizations. These businesses and organizations rely on citizens in order to sustain themselves. A city, town, or any other place with humans requires a smaller system in order to sustain the bigger one. A currency system is one of the most important systems in a civilization. Without money, nobody can live. Food, water, clothing, shelter, and so much more are bought with money. People make businesses where you can buy those things with money. Systems are an important part of life, and without them, pretty much nothing would exist.

      Now, I am taking the example of a human population for all of this, but this could apply to anything. Like a system of nonprofit organizations to help the environment by connecting with each other. Or the system of life, where there are predators killing prey. Even a Rube Goldberg Machine could be considered as a system. It ends up performing a big operation, like putting a marble in a bin using smaller operations, like a toy car hitting a wooden ball into a button. Looking at recent events, I could explain that COVID-19 is also a system. It spreads, therefore interconnects when someone gives the virus to another. There are systems for everything, even very small things.

       Wherever you are and wherever you go, systems will follow you. In a forest, in a desert, anywhere you are, you will always find systems, even if you don’t notice at the time. Keep looking around you. Life is one of the systems that you will almost always find where you are. If you do not identify life, look for others. Systems are beautiful things. Everything in a system cannot work without the other components. Systems are everything in life. They make up life itself. Systems are everywhere, and will always be with you. Just make sure you appreciate them for what they are.

      When you think of a system, you might think of the life system, or the water system. However, not all systems are as simple and easy to comprehend as these. A quick complex system that comes to mind is the economic system. The economy is an elaborate web of sadness and anguish but also joy and false happiness. The only reason there can be such a difference between the two is the wealth gap, a scary, bad system. Overall, though, a system basically is just some continuous thing that happens that uses multiple people or things to operate.

      A system is not always made of the same components. Some simple systems compile of a few steps that cycle on and on for eternity. For example, the water treatment facility. Human waste comes in, the nasty pulp gets processed into Tagro™, and the water from the pulp obviously gets purified into drinking water. The Tagro™ gets food grown from it, the now cleaned wastewater gets drunk (NOT under the influence of alcohol, digested), the food and water go into the human, and so on. More complex systems can follow different routes. Difficult and complicated systems occur more than you think in your normal life.

      Around us, there are countless systems happening at this instant. Many of them we witness are easy to recognize, like the judicial system or the sewer system. There is also a large amount of them that we do not. For example, the shopping system. You probably have bought something once in your life, but never really noticed how advanced just buying items is. If the item is from a farmer’s market, odds are that the vendor was the original producer of the product. However, if you bought a cabbage from a grocery store, they had to buy it from a farmer before selling it to you. If the store you bought the cabbage from is still in business, you know that they ripped you off. If they bought it from a farmer and sold it to you at the same cost that they bought it for, they would not make a profit.

     Community is a great example of a complex system. The fact that the population is growing at all is deep. In the far past, one person would die for every birth, meaning that the population would stay constant. Eventually, more people were born a year than those who died. This birth-death rate went exponentially up and is still going up today. However, scientists predict that the human population will top out at 10,000,000,000 people. This sounds rather daunting, but it is actually quite a  relief, since any more humans could make the earth unable to sustain us anymore.


      A car whizzes by on the road near your house. Two robins fly from the tip of a tree, one with a worm in its beak. You may not realize it, but you are watching multiple systems at work right where you live. Whether it’s the food chain, ecosystem, transportation system or many more, all systems have one thing in common: they are all composed of many parts working together as a whole. Take, for example, our government. The government is composed of three groups, the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. We need all three branches to support our nation. Or the ecosystem, every species matters, some more than others, but if you take to many of them out the whole thing collapses.

      A system is like a tower, built with blocks. By removing one block, not much will happen, but if you start to remove tens and hundreds of blocks, even if you take the ones off of the top, eventually you will be left with nothing. Just look at the ecosystem itself. We are taking out forest after forest, species after species. The system of our earth is starting to fall apart and research shows that if we continue to do this, the earth might no longer be a thing. Just like if you take too many blocks out of a tower. Every system needs its parts, like how a community needs its people. Though is a community a system itself? It has many systems within in, but does that mean anything?  The Merriam Webster’s dictionary definition of a community is "A unified body of individuals." A group of people that are linked together to form a whole, just like a system. A community also works together, just like a system.

      Systems are everywhere and almost everything is part of a system in some way. Systems are the foundations for almost everything, including other systems, and if one system is destroyed many will follow. Systems are all important whether they are big, like the universe, or small, like an animal’s digestive system, and absolutely nothing would exist without them.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Advice from the 5th Graders

The 5th grade students came up with some great ideas for things to do while staying home and staying safe during the pandemic that we wanted to share with everyone out there looking for inventive and inspiring things to do at home.

Advice from a science, art and nature lover:
If you are bored and don't have anything to do, I recommend going outside. If you are an art lover, try making something out of leaves and other things you can find outside. For inspiration, look up nature mandalas. If you like science I recommend finding a plant in your yard and studying it, or reading a book on science outside, or any book.
If the weather is bad, I recommend finding an endangered species you like, here is a website that might help you find one: . From there, you could write an essay, dream up an invention that might help them, do what you can to help them, or whatever you want. This activity does not have to be completely on the computer. You can do the research on the computer, or if you have a book on endangered species, you could read it, the rest can also be done off of the computer.

Advice from some science lovers and a science fiction enthusiast:
Kurzgesagt in a nutshell is a great (YouTube) channel, and is useful for astrophysics and many types of science.

Another science-minded student recommended Minute Earth: 

A refreshing recipe from a mathematician and baker:
I also recommend baking, or cooking. These are surprisingly my favorite thing to do at home. This recipe is for making watermelon slushies. This dessert is not in season, but who cares! (It’s a slushy, made for the summer.) But the instructions are pretty simple.

You will need these ingredients....
6 cups cubed melon
⅓ cup honey
Juice of one lime
Pinch of salt
1. Cube melon into 1” pieces and freeze (at least 4-6 hours).
2. Puree frozen melon with honey, lime juice, and salt until very smooth.
3.Pour into glasses and enjoy!

You can also try...
-honeydew + mint simple syrup + lime juice
- watermelon + honey + orange juice
-cantaloupe + ginger simple syrup + lime

From a scientist, maker, and future mycologist:
When not finishing assignments on Eduflow, Flipgrid, or Khan Academy, one can be bored quite easily. As we all know, boredom is not exhilarating. I always trust mycelium to aid me in situations like this.

Growing food in the following weeks may prove relevant. Mushrooms contain lots of healthy minerals, vitamins, and, a hearty source of protein. Using mycelium to grow mushrooms is not hard at all. I am growing some right now from some dried grass. I also have one sprouting from an empty plain white sauce container. (Yes, this is a DHMIS reference. The jar was used to hold alfredo sauce.) I'm sure you can find some substrate to grow mycelium in.

Probably by now you're wondering where you can get some of this gorgeous, incredible substance. You're not? well, I better tell you anyway, before it's too late. I got my mycelium from Cascadia mushrooms, This link sends you to the Cascadia website. It sends you directly to the easier-to-maintain mushroom kits.

Most of the kits give you mushrooms in 2-3 weeks. Here's a time-lapse of a mushroom kit from Cascadia growing mushrooms: You're harvest can be sautéed, fried, or even put in soup. generally you'll get 2-3 flushes of mushrooms. A flush of mushrooms just means one harvest. The wait is definitely worth it

While the kits are designed to be quite easy, there are a few precautions you should take. One: you should always pick all of the mushrooms at once, even if some of them are still 'premature'. Two: keep the humidity of the kit very high. A way to do this is to put a plastic shopping bag over the kit. Three: if the kit is in a bag, there will be a date on it. If this date is in the past, cut the bag open slightly above the micro-filter, which looks like a white patch. Hopefully you'll get a kit, and if you do, please share the results.

And one more, from a writer, logical thinker and puzzle solver:
I’ve been doing a puzzle thing called finders seekers. I would recommend it to people who like geography and puzzles. You have to order a box. Anyone can do it any time. I’m in Washington DC. You are in a certain place and you get puzzles for that place. There are things in the box but also on the website. It’s challenging and fun.

We hope everyone is staying healthy at home, and still learning something new every day!

Friday, April 3, 2020

Math Struggles During a Pandemic

Start from where things make sense

  • “How could we draw a picture so this made sense?”
  • “This feels confusing. Let’s start with an easier problem.”

Be curious

  • “That’s the right answer, but I don’t see how you got it. How did you do that?”
  • “Let’s try to do it a totally different way. How many ways could we come up with?”

Keep it light and nonjudgmental

  • “It doesn’t matter if we get it wrong. Let’s just mess with it.”
  • “I have no idea what to do. Let’s figure it out together!”
  • -Math For Love
One of the MANY panicked e-mails I received from parents during these first few weeks of school closures due to the Covid-19 pandemic had to do with a student who was encountering the concept of fractions for the first time at home. "Help!" the parent wrote, "How do I teach my child fractions?"

I have told this as a funny story to several fellow teachers -- "Sure," I laugh, "Let me just put that in a quick e-mail response for you, NO PROBLEM!" (Several very LONG and involved e-mails later, with a lot of links to examples of how to make fraction manipulatives, we actually had a half-hour plus Zoom meeting, but that's not as funny a story...)

This scenario, though, is something I think is playing out in homes all over the world right now, and it is frustrating for all involved. Teachers STUDY how to teach math. We took college courses to learn the ins and outs of how to elicit mathematical thinking, identify the big ideas, and identify the common misunderstandings of each of the math concepts we cover. Many of us have advanced degrees and have spent countless hours in professional development courses to deal with just this subject. Seabury teachers all attend summer classes at UCDS in Seattle, learning creative ways to develop critical math skills through inquiry-based lessons they call math "vitamins," and we call math "quests" or "adventures." These lessons are designed to develop multiple entry points and multiple strategies and challenge students across many levels of understanding -- it's not easy, and there is a certain amount of art to it -- as well as a whole lot of classroom experience.

So, I have found myself wondering -- how do we boil that down for parents at home?

The bottom line, parents, is -- we don't. Do not expect that you are going to step right into your child's math teacher's shoes and pick right up where they left off, no problem. It's not quite that easy.

Thankfully, there are many fantastic resources out there designed to help - Khan Academy is just one that many people are relying heavily on right now. No matter what online resource your student may be using, however, they are still going to need some support. And although it is not reasonable to expect to replace your child's math teacher outright, it is also not impossible. Give yourself some grace, take a big patient breath, and know that you don't have to be a math teacher, just a math facilitator. And yes, please ask for advice from those of us who have fought for years in these trenches. Don't, however, assume that we can distill it down for you into one e-mail.

As I have been struggling with helping parents and students through this, I have been looking for the silver bullet. The one thing I can share with parents that will capture the essence of the skills, ideas, and questions that you need to be an effective teacher of math.

Short of going back to school for a teaching degree, I think I may have found the answer through a fantastic math resource that we rely on heavily at Seabury. We've had training from these folks and we use these games and lesson ideas regularly in our classrooms.

Spend 5 minutes reading this article from MathForLove:

and then 15 minutes watching creator Dan Finkel's Tedx Talk:

and you, too, can start to be inculcated into the cult of math pedagogy. It may not be a degree in math teaching, but it's the best I can do for you in the equivalent of an e-mail.

Hang in there, everybody! Don't give up on the math!

Sunday, February 9, 2020

The Incredible Journey of a Drop of Water

Our class had the privilege of working with Chris Towe of the Pierce County Conservation District on a number of lessons about water and water conservation at the beginning of the year. In one lesson, we played a game that tracked the incredible journey of a water droplet.
After Chris departed, we wrote stories based on this idea.
Here are a few of the creative ideas the students came up with:

The Water Story (an excerpt)

I woke up in the river, ice had formed overnight. (This year’s February seemed to be especially cold.) Then I heard murmuring voices. “Look Annie, we have so much snow and ice this year!” “I know, Sally” this seemed to be Annie’s voice though I’m not sure. Then the children left. Soon I could feel the sun warming the river turning solid into liquid, ice into water. Over the next few weeks I could feel the days getting warmer until one fortunate day when I could feel myself turning into vapor once more. I turned into a cloud. Suddenly, I realized it was March.

            The cloud I was in traveled for many days until we hit something. Other water molecules whispered to me that we had hit a mountain. Suddenly, I could feel myself falling off my cloud. I knew it was not raining, I knew what raining felt like, it was like the cloud was shedding me off. Before I knew it I felt myself merging with the river and falling for what it seemed an endless time until I felt myself floating calmly into a pool. For some time I stayed there until I felt myself being sucked up by what it seemed an animal! Then I thought, "It's April."


I will explain my story as best as I can. As far as I can remember, I started out in a lake when earth formed. One day, I felt a nice tingling sensation all over as I was gently broken apart and lifted up into the sky. I couldn’t tell you how awesome I felt at that time. I felt that I was the king of Earth. Suddenly, I started feeling a jerking sensation so strong that my broken form came together into a cloud.
 I felt cold, and I was wondering what would happen once the cloud expanded and got too big. I soon found my answer, and I didn’t like it. I was falling, tens of thousands of feet. I dreaded what would happen once I hit the ground. As I fell, faster than a freight-train, I got a glimpse of where I would land. I was relieved that I would land in the ocean for the first time in my life. I plunked into the water freely with my friends. At this point, I was about half a million years old. I stayed in the ocean for several years before I felt a familiar sensation.
After the process of evaporation happened to me again, I was placed in a large, fluffy cloud that looked a lot like a clump of cotton candy. I knew that the process of precipitation would happen again and I didn’t look forward to it. To pass time, I talked to my friend Nicholas. I was in mid-sentence, when the familiar uncomfortable sensation washed over me, if anything can wash over me as I am water. Nothing could have prepared me for what happened next.