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Perception

A couple of months ago I had a rough couple of weeks. A flight home to deal with some heavy emotional family matters that left me questioning a lot of things I thought were previously unquestionable, feedback letting me know of areas where I have not been performing as well as expected, meetings where the shortcomings of this that and the other have been highlighted, being questioned on decisions I have made and processes I have chosen to implement and follow. And I also realised (after watching one of their pre-season games) my favourite Aussie Rules football team is again hopeless this year! It has been one after the other after the other after the other.

Right now, as I read through this litany of self-pity, it strikes me that you too could read this as a litany of self-pity. One important conversation ago, it was. One important conversation ago, I was struggling to find the positive spin on all the negative. I was humming my favourite Monty Python song but couldn’t for the life of me find the bright side. And then I had the conversation.

Image Credit: http://theologygaming.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/454897499.jpg

It was one I was not looking forward to. It had a good chance of being a difficult one. It was about how I had communicated with someone and how they had perceived the message – what they had read “between the lines” through my choice of vocabulary, FULL CAPS, turn of phrase and overall content.

They were quite blunt. They were honest. I listened. I disagreed. I agreed. I questioned. They answered. I listened. I learned.
The learning, through the conversation, was that the perception of what I had written had become the message, and not the message itself. My message and the reader’s perception of the message were quite different – almost opposite, and the perception won!
This was the conversation that changed my litany of self-pity into something else. It’s not the first time I have learned this truth, but this time I think it will stick.

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Lego, IKEA and problem finding!

Photo Credit: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/6f/Einstein-formal_portrait-35.jpg

“The formulation of the problem is often more essential than its solution, which may be merely a matter of mathematical or experimental skill.”
― Albert Einstein

It would be fair to suggest that we have all heard of problem solving! It is lauded as an essential 21st century skill. We ask each other if we are asking our students to “problem solve”. While this is not unimportant, Einstein’s 20th century quote above might be putting a new spin on this 21st century skill that we have not considered – that finding the problem might be more important that solving it!

Somewhere in my past I remember listening to a speaker (maybe it was a TED Talk) whose main idea was that we should be spending a LOT more time working with students on FINDING the problems, and then solving them. If I remember rightly, he was suggesting that handing a student a page full of “problems” and asking them to “solve” them was missing the point somewhat.

Maybe it is like an IKEA dining table you bring home.

Here are all the parts you need, and the tools you will need to use with the parts, and a book that gives you the step by step instructions for putting the table together, and a picture of what each step should look like, and a picture of the finished product, and a helpline number to call if you mess things up. Or, if that’s too hard, here is the number for a couple of guys who can come to your house and solve your building problem for you (for a small fee of course!).

Imagine what would happen if the IKEA table came with five extra pieces, no tools, no picture and no helpline! (Oops, someone just fainted!)

If you have ever watched a child receive a Lego set as a present, there is that short period of “building the IKEA table” where the booklet is opened, the steps are followed and the “thing” is built. It is played with for a short period. The car zooms. But then… the car crashes and the pieces come apart and the car merges with the house and the boat to become become a hovercraft with a time travelling switch and a laser cannon and next thing the room, and everyone in it, is being blasted by lasers and transported into the future.

I wonder what would happen if you started playing lego with all your different pieces of IKEA furniture???

I digress!

As you continually challenge your students to solve problems, how can you challenge them to FIND the problems and then solve them? How can you make those problems you are posing embedded in the REAL world, rather than the SCHOOL world?

How can the problems you challenge your students to find and solve REALLY help them with the problems they are going to encounter and attempt to solve this afternoon as they walk/cycle/bus/train home from school?

And apologies if you are still having shivers from the “five extra pieces” IKEA thought!

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Your lightbulb in your classroom?

Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow. – C. William Pollard

(Source: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/innovation.html)

There is a danger that when we think of innovation we imagine devices that can turn salt water into drinking water, or self-driving cars, or mouldy bread that can charge a phone battery (yes, it does exist!). While these do fit the definition of innovation, to most of us, these types of new ideas are well beyond our scope. Innovation, as portrayed by the media, is usually big and life changing and sensational.
But innovation can be something you do every day!
When you consider that innovation is defined as “a new method, idea, product, etc”, then your own scope for innovation suddenly widens. And innovation can be a personal thing! What is innovative for you doesn’t need to be innovative for someone else. If what you are doing is new for you – a new method, a new approach, a new idea – then you are being innovative.

So, as you consider your teaching today, what are you doing today that you have not done before? Where are those moments where you are challenging yourself with a new teaching idea, or a new assessment practice or a new approach to planning. If you have always taught a certain book or a certain unit a certain way, or have always taught from a content perspective, or have always set a final exam, how can you innovate? Can you take the big ideas of the book and allow students to choose their own books that address those ideas? Can you reconsider the content from a conceptual standpoint and teach from that new angle? Can you develop a rubric that covers all the elements of the final exam and give students the opportunity to choose how to demonstrate those understandings via a project?

Innovation carries with it a certain amount of risk. Will the conceptual unit be as good as the usual content approach? How will I assess students if they are all reading different books? Will a final project be as rigorous as a final exam?
Risk taking in teaching is critical. Not everything is going to be fantastic first time around. It won’t be the end of the world. You will be able to try again.
So today, how will you innovate in your classroom? How will you innovate in your teaching? How will you allow your students to innovate?
Thanks for stopping by to check out the blog! If you would like to receive an update each time there is a new post, just add your email in below. Thanks, Bruce.

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