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voicEd Radio Spotlight: Paul McGuire and the Importance of Getting Out of School

voicEd Radio Spotlight: Paul McGuire and the Importance of Getting Out of School

Many of us long for versions of school that acknowledge the power of community involvement, if not engagement, and the wonderful things that can happen when the insights, experiences, resources and stories that are living within the spaces surrounding our schools are drawn into our classrooms and into our ways of thinking about curriculum. Often these aspirations are embedded in our visions for both vibrant systems of education and dynamic communities.

This morning, I had a live conversation with Paul McGuire on voicEd Radio and, while he acknowledged the positive impact that participation in schools can have, he effectively turned the idea on its head when he told us some pretty powerful stories where, as a principal, he ventured out into the community, meeting parents, business people and community members where they lived. For Paul, being able to get out of the school, allowing what he heard and what he learned about the community to inform his vision for the work being done back at the school, paid dividends, forged new relationships and offered everyone a different perspective.

Instead of seeing communities as a part of the school, Paul helps us understand that, in fact, schools are part of the community. (In reality, holding both perspectives simultaneously will likely yield the best opportunities for growth!)

But as Paul was telling his stories, I could literally sense a change in my breathing as he inspired a possibility in my mind. What might happen if, as a staff, we were to designate one PD day a year to do just what Paul did—get out of school and head out, two-by-two, out into the community. What if we were to head to the local shopping mall, the coffee shop, the library, the places of worship, the rec centre, the seniors residence, the local businesses and municipal offices to talk to people. Not all of them would have children in our school, but I would venture to guess that all of them would have something to say about their hopes and aspirations for their community.

Imagine how this “environmental” research might influence the way we see things once we got back to the schoolhouse. Imagine how it might refresh our vision for our work and its importance in the larger context of where we live.

Why not grab a coffee, find a comfortable chair and listen to my conversation with Paul McGuire. And let us know what insights and ideas begin to emerge for you!

Out of My Mind—and Into Theirs!

Out of My Mind—and Into Theirs!

I’ve always been a sucker for a good metaphor. A well-used, provocative metaphor can go a long way to helping to both deepen and broaden our understanding of the world in which we live. So to say that Cathy Fosnot had me at landscapes of learning would be a bit of an understatement. In fact, as we continue to move through this nine-week #notabookstudy project, it is her idea that mathematical learning takes place across a landscape, and not along a straight and narrow highway, that has breathed so much life into the way that I see my own mathematics story and my growing relationship with the numbers, patterns and connections that are part of the world in which we live.

Beyond my own personal journey, however, the landscape metaphor has opened my eyes to the learning lives of my two boys, Luke and Liam. I’ve always seen Luke, age 10, as a bit of a conformist. He likes to know the rules regarding many things. He loves puzzles, codes and mysteries. He’s a figure-it-out type of guy. Liam, on the other hand, is a little bit of an enigma. He’s imaginative and curious and loves to dwell in a world filled with questions, possibilities and…well…costumes. Together, they’ve provided me with the perfect “testing ground” for some of the ideas and concepts that we’re talking about in this #notabookstudy.

On the way home from school last Tuesday, a few hours before our weekly broadcast with Cathy, I decided to try out some of the things that I had been reading about in Chapter 6: Algorithm vs. Number Sense. As we walked along, I posed a simple addition question to both of them at the same time. “What’s 34 plus 26,” I asked, realizing that I might have taken more time to place the question in some sort of context. But I was curious about one thing—how they would proceed in their computation.

They both came up with the same answer at the same time and so I turned to Luke first, asking him to explain to me how he went about arriving at the answer ’60’.

“Well, it was easy. I added the 4 and the 6, which gave me 10. I knew that I had to carry a one which gave me 3 + 2 + 1. So that’s 6 and the answer is ’60’.”  It was clear to me that he was using a mental image of the algorithm that he had been taught in school.

Liam waited patiently for Luke to finish and then he began his explanation. “I got the same answer as Luke, but here’s how I did it. I knew that 30 plus 20 was 50. I also knew that 4 plus 6 was 10. So I just added the 50 and 10 and got 60!”

I tucked the story away until I had the chance to share it with Cathy during our Tuesday night conversation. But it wasn’t until our broadcast was nearly over that it struck me. I became curious about the way Luke and Liam actually imagined the computation question in the first place. When Luke thought about my question, did he naturally stack the numbers, preparing to work his algorithmic magic, or did he first think of the numbers in a horizontal line? And how did Liam picture the same set of numbers and the same question?

I began to wonder whether the way that we hold numbers, number sentences and equations in our mind has an effect on the way that we go about figuring things out. So, the next morning, I asked the boys the same question, but instead of doing it “in their heads”, I asked them to write things down. And here are the results:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s likely a lot that I could say about these two images. I could wonder about whether Luke recognizes the power of place value in the algorithmic approach. I could marvel at the progress Liam seems to be making towards understanding the distributive property. (I could even ask why Liam continues to reverse his “5’s”). For me, however, the real power of these two images has to do with the assumptions that I make (and have made for many years) about what is actually going on in the mind of our learners. What happens in the spaces that occur between my communication of a mathematical idea, question or concept and how it is perceived and interpreted? How could the way a simple equation is written affect the way students start to think about it? How do different minds construct mathematical models?

I have to admit that I tend towards algorithmic thinking in my own life. If you must know, I’m a stacker. But what would happen if, as a parent, I took Cathy Fosnot’s landscape of learning seriously and made a conscious effort to get out of my own mind—my own ingrained way of thinking—and stepped into the mind of another traveler on the road?

Spring Cleaning Challenge!

Spring Cleaning Challenge!

It’s springtime in Canada! (Well, that’s what the calendar says.) So, we’re with a bit of a challenge for you. What is the book in your library (virtual or otherwise) that has had the most effect on your thinking about schools, about learning, about education.

Whether you’re a parent, an educator, someone that works around the edges of schools or someone who is just passionate about these conversations, we want to know what book has helped to frame your thinking.

So find the book, click the + sign and off you go! Your responses will be saved here, and we’ll include some of the audio files in the voicEd Radio stream!

Living on The Edge in Palo Alto

Living on The Edge in Palo Alto

I’ve arrived in Palo Alto, California for a 3-day Practitioners Course in Strategic Foresight at the Institute for The Future. I’m here because I think we need some new ways of thinking about the future of education, not only in Canada, but around the world. I’m here because I’ve read some of the work of IFTF Fellow Bob Johansen and was attracted by his insistence that we live in a VUCA world–volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. And I’m here because I’ve always been a fan of moving as close to the edge as possible.

Geographically, Palo Alto is not far from the Pacific Ocean allowing me a sense of exactly where I am in the world. Coastal regions always afford that vantage point. As a place of innovation, this part of the state is home to both the technology establishment as well as a vibrant start-up culture.

Finally, Palo Alto is home to Stanford University. Need I say more? The D-School, Carol Dweck, Jo Boler, Linda Darling-Hammond, Eric Bettinger–all Stanford and all on the edge of current thinking in education.

I believe that we’ll always find evidence of the changes we want to see by moving to the edge. Palo Alto is certainly not the wild west, but there is definitely an edginess here that is worth looking at!

Here are a few opening remarks that I made while out walking this afternoon.

Shifting Schools: From a Performance Space to a Learning Space

Shifting Schools: From a Performance Space to a Learning Space

Here’s a TED Talk that came across my daily feed this week. The title immediately caught my attention. I mean, what self-proclaimed TED Talk junkie wouldn’t be attracted by a title that seemed to mix learning and passion.

I grabbed my lunch and sat down to watch. I wasn’t disappointed—and I can’t imagine that you will regret investing the 10 or 11 minutes. In fact, if your reaction is similar to mine, you will likely want to watch it again with a friend or colleague.

The premise is poignantly simple. Mindset Works co-founder Eduardo Briceño argues that we can use two frames or zones to look at the lives we lead and the work that we do: a learning zone and a performance zone. The learning zone is where we aim to improve a skill, a practice or a competency. This is the place of trial and error, the place of risk-taking and the place where a growth mindset can propel us forward. The learning zone is the place for real…well…learning!

On the other hand, the performance zone is all about mastery, competent execution and putting our best out there for the world to see and hear. This is where we say to the world, “Here’s what I can do!”.

As I watched the video for a second and third time, my mind took me on a somewhat involuntary tour of my own life, my own practices and the places where I needed to do the most learning. It wasn’t long before I was faced with the realization that most of my waking hours are spent in the performance zone. Whether it is writing a blog, conducting a radio interview or, more recently, practicing the piano, much of what I do falls within the performance zone and, by its very nature, is very public. I don’t set aside a whole lot of time in my day for intentionally structured practice.

But, if Briceño is correct, that’s exactly what needs to happen if we want to get really good at anything—especially the things we really care about.

And, given that education is one of the things that I really care about, it wasn’t long before I started thinking about schools as learning zones. I fear that Briceño is right when he observes that schools are primarily places of performance—on so many levels. Tightly wound curriculum, coupled with blurred lines between assessment and evaluation make it difficult to argue otherwise.

I would like to reflect on this more, but I need some companions on the journey! I would love to get your thoughts on the brief video and then engage in a conversation, either here or on voicEd Radio. I think that Eduardo Briceño has given us a way to think about shifting schools in a very powerful way.  But you may have a different take on things.

How do you frame your thinking about schools? As an educator, what percentage of time do your students spend in the learning zone? Are you satisfied with the balance between learning and performance? Do you agree with the conceptual separation between learning and performance?

As a parent, what are your observations of your own children in terms of learning and performance? Is there a difference between what your children experience in school and other aspects of their lives? 

As a student, what parts of this conversation resonate with you? What percentage of your school day do you feel like you are performing? Is there adequate time and space for learning? Can you engage in deep learning when in the performance zone? 

As always, there may be a totally different set of questions going through your mind. I would love to hear what they might be!