Sunday, January 27, 2013

AGIS - Day 2; plus, my presentation!

Day 2 of the AGIS conference was great! In the morning, I went to a lovely elementary math presentation done by Beth Winkler from Bonn International School. She is the math subject leader at her school and they do some wonderful investigative things with their kids. She was able to show us various subtraction algorithms, for example, that the kids developed together with the teacher, and to talk about how they structure always two content strands (ie. Numbers and Data/Stats) to run in parallel during any given week. Numbers strand (ie. numeracy and numerical operations) is taught and practiced more or less in isolation (facts are reinforced with games), and the second math strand (such as Data/Statistics) is incorporated into their current PYP themed unit. For example, for the PYP unit "Body Systems," they had kids measure a bunch of their body parts and to do statistical analysis on the results. They also let kids' own curiosities direct them in the direction of mathematical inquiry. Recently, they realized through one such inquiry that the girls' shoes and boys' shoes in the class have the same mean size (length), but the girls' shoes have a smaller range in size than the boys. So, the boys' claim (which was the reason for this mathematical investigation) that "Girls in our class have smaller feet!" isn't really true! How terribly cute and engaging. They also have set periods of math, to ensure that the same amount of math is covered in every grade / class, which can sometimes be a challenge for PYP schools where everything is taught in themes.

Moreover, just the way this lady talked about math was wonderful. She really wanted to focus on helping kids not to be afraid of math, and she understands how to apply concrete-to-abstract continuum in math education, not just within each lesson, but over the years. She made me really wish that our school could have such a subject specialist at the elementary level. It's something I have asked for on behalf of our department, but I don't know if there is such room in our budget to hire such a specialist. Maybe. We will have to see as the 2013-2014 budget slowly takes its shape.

Then came my own presentation! I was very nervous, to be honest. But, the presentation was very well-received by my very small audience (only about 10 people, which is a shame because there were more math people who had wanted to be there, but the session was "maxed out" on paper and so they hadn't signed up...). Everyone came up to me afterwards and said that they thought it was very interesting, even the elementary teachers and one of my own departmental colleagues. They said that they thought there were definitely ideas that they took away that they think they can adapt for their classrooms, which was wonderful because it was my first out-of-school presentation!

Here is the presentation link: It's meant to be viewed in Slideshow mode, so that you can navigate all the embedded links to slides that make this a presentation that can adjust to audience's interests in real-time. But, in the notes section of the presentation I wrote more verbose descriptions about each slide. During the presentation, I opened one external document (the directions of the 3-D project), to discuss it in details in order to let the teachers see exactly how it would be structured in my class.

Then, after my own presentation I went to a fabulous one on elementary Fun and Games. The teacher is a New Zealander, and she demonstrated various games from New Zealand Math(s) that I thought were very simple in format and easy to adapt to younger or older age groups. She wanted us in the end to brainstorm possible modifications, and I recommended that even skip-counting games like BizBuz can be modified to have students pick algebraic expressions out of a bag, show it to the class, and then say either Biz or Buz depending on whether they are divisible by either of the two expressions specified by the teacher at the start of the game. I am excited to try this game with my Grade 7s when they get to basic algebraic factorization later this year! Another game that I think is very adaptable to the MS classroom is a variation of the spelling game that she administers. Start with kids standing in a circle; one kid says a shape name, such as "Square." Then, the next ____ kids will need to state all the identifying properties of that shape. "Has 4 sides." "Opposite sides are congruent." "All angles are right angles." "All sides are congruent." "Diagonals are congruent." "Diagonals are perpendicular." When all properties have been stated, the last kid says, "Sparkles!" and does sparkly jazz hands (I'll have to see how this works out with my MSers; maybe the sparkles part is too much for them). And the next kid in the circle will get to name a different shape, and this starts over. If the "Sparkles" are prematurely called because there are properties that have been missed, then the kid who called the sparkles would sits down. If a kid says a property incorrectly, then they also sit down. Round-and-round we go to review properties of polygons....

Finally, I went to a talk on tips for school leadership, led by Paul Morris, who is an elementary principal in Stuttgart. Even though the general presentation format was not my favorite, it had some gems of advice. Specifically, these were the things that stood out to me:
  • Spend more time with the people who disagree with you / dislike you than the people who like you / support you.
  • If you are pushing a new initiative, you need to get a core group of supporters and then just MOVE. It's not possible to wait until everyone gets on board.
  • Education fads come and go almost faster than shoe fashion. Get your teachers to help you decide which new trend is a fad, and which is not. Choose carefully.
  • Consider carefully the flow of info from meeting to meeting. Design your meeting schedules in a way that pays respect to this need
  • Give parents credit for advocating for their child, even if they may appear misguided to you.
  • Admit when you've made a mistake. This models for your teachers how to interact with children and each other.
  • Understand that it is very difficult sometimes for international families to adjust to a new situation, and they take it out on the school because that is one thing that they feel they could have control over. Be patient.
  • Consult as many people as possible before making a decision. But, don't be afraid to make the decision.
  • If someone sends you a one-on-one email, do not write them back. Go find them in person to discuss it. Make opportunities to make face-to-face contact with your colleagues.
  • Remember why you are here. Have compassion. Teachers and students are equally important.

  • Work from different places. When you get out of your normal working place (ie. office), even if it's just taking your laptop and sitting somewhere else, you gain new perspectives.
OK - last day! And then, off to enjoy my Sunday evening. whew. 

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