Full Circle


The circle has special meaning in many First Nation cultures. We often sit in circles at Seventh Fire, an alternative secondary educational program for First Nations, Metis and Inuit students. I feel as though I have come full circle in my educational career.

I have just taken on a new role for one period this semester. It is to support an already established professional development program within the school (SSSSI). My role is to act as a resource to teachers in integrating culturally sensitive pedagogy, instructional strategies, tools and structures responsive to the needs of First Nations, Metis and Inuit (FNMI) students.

As I began to gather resources and jump start my own learning, I started to write a blog post about Russell Bishop’s research and work in New Zealand with Maori students. His work has fascinated me for years. As I began to write the blog post, I had this feeling that I had already written something familiar. Sure enough, I found a blog post I wrote in 2010 that was nearly identical to what I was thinking. Dr. Bishop’s work has fascinated me for many years and I have never really done anything with it. This new role will give me the opportunity to further explore his work and how it may relate to Ontario and supporting FNMI students.

Most importantly I am interested in how does one support teachers in an effective way to empower them to adapt instruction to meet the needs of their FNMI students. I feel almost like I’ve been “off course” for the past few years while I took such a strong focus on educational technology (as much as I’d like to think I was focused on good teaching, not the technology). My heart has always been with at-risk students and more importantly First Nations students. I always saw technology as a way to support changing how our classrooms function, empowering more students to direct their own learning.

It is now time for me to merge my passions. How can technology, more specifically “1:1 Bring Your Own Device” (each student bringing a device) support teaching and learning practices that meet the needs of the Aboriginal learner?

In the video below Russell Bishop talks about six things that make teachers effective in supporting Maori students.

1. They reject deficit explanations. They do not turn to things like home life, genetics, socioeconomic background to explain low Maori student achievement.  They believe that every Maori can meet with high success in the right environment and feel that it is their responsibility to try to create that environment.

2. They demonstrate that they care for Maori students as Maori and have high expectations for them.

3. They create a learning context where Maori students can draw on their own previous knowledge.

4. They are able to manage classrooms in a way that the pedagogy provides feedback to students in a way that directs learning. Negotiated co-construction of learning. learning among learners. Opposed to simple transmission models.

5. They use a range of teaching strategies well.

6. Evidence of student performance is used to guide where they take their teaching. Ensuring that students know about their outcomes in a formative way, in a way that can help them know where to move next.

He states relationships are paramount to educational performance. Its about caring for people, caring that they learn and creating environments where they can learn. He terms it as culturally responsive pedagogy.

Lastly, Dr. Bishop highlights the fact that teachers need to be supported. They need a structure around them that is fully supportive of their work. They need high-quality professional development. I believe that this is of the utmost importance. This will not happen overnight. I cannot even visualize what the “perfect”math class looks like. What is the perfect balance between direct instruction, inquiry, investigation, collaborative work, students teaching students, etc.? The professional development needed around this is huge.  We need to push ourselves. Try new things and take risks. That requires a great big support system.


A culturally responsive pedagogy of relations from EDtalks on Vimeo.


Math Talk and Ownership of Learning

I’m teaching a math class for the first time in about 8 years. I’m loving it. I used to teach mostly math, but its been a long time.

We are wrapping up a mini-unit, or “big idea” on solving linear systems. We started off doing an inquiry activity to figure out what solving linear systems was all about conceptually. We looked at what this meant graphically. This activity ended up bringing up a lot of skill review from grade 9 (equations of a line, slope, graphing linear functions, writing linear functions, algebra). I got to see just how creative my Grade 10’s can be during this inquiry activity.

Next, students divided up into pairs within groups of four. Each pair mastered one other method of solving linear systems (substitution or elimination). Students used materials I provided them online and any other materials they could find. Their task was to become masters of that method and prepare a lesson for the rest of their group.

During the “teach each other” lesson, the discussion in class was fascinating. They were on topic almost the entire class. Students were asking each other excellent questions. They were debating, rewording and finding multiple ways to explain things. After some debate and discussion I would suddenly hear a student say “wait! I want to try that!”. I’m sorry, you WANT to try that? That is something I don’t think I used to hear in my math classes when I was the one doing all the teaching.

One student came up to me and said “I have a gap. I’m struggling with rearranging formulas, solving equations”. After spending the better part of a period talking with each other about the math, and often struggling to grasp the concepts, students were taking ownership of their learning. Thinking about learning. When I’m the one doing the teaching, students often take a passive role. However, when they were learning from each other, they seemed to take a more aggressive approach, advocating loudly for what they needed to learn the concept.

Next week we will be doing an activity to help focus on solving equations for any variable. The best part is, they requested it. I’m not shoving it down their throat. Students will be provided with a variety of ways to brush up on this skill and can choose what works best for them (an interactive online gizmo, reading content, video, etc.).

I am very impressed with the math talk that happened in the classroom while they were teaching each other different strategies to solve linear functions. I hadn’t anticipated that it would encourage them to take so much more ownership of their own learning.


Student Creativity in Math

Today in class we took cue from Dan Meyers three-act math lessons. Students watched the first part of a video clip of two people racing. Thy needed to pull the math out and determine who was going to win.

When I sent them to work, each group had a tablet or computer that I provided with the video on it and then all the smart phones they were packing and could manage.

Most groups used timer apps on their phones and gathered data points to plot a distance-time graph for each runner. A couple groups played around with the runners speed and the distance and determined the time it would take each runner.

Then, one group really surprised me. They pulled out a MacBook, downloaded the video, threw it into video editing software and got data points from the distance each runner went per frame. It was great. They broke the video down into frames and somewhere in there I lost understanding of what they were doing (technologically). I didn’t need to know. It generated lots of great math talk and conversation in class within their group, between groups as we did a “gallery walk” type thing and lastly as a whole-class during the consolidation.

Luckily for me, most groups did graph data points, enabling us to have the conversation I was aiming for on solving linear systems graphically. I was also given some great insight into my students minds when I realized how upset/frustrated some were that we were using a linear model. They pointed out that as a runner starts they are not going full speed yet and that it takes a while. This opened up a whole-new conversation that I hadn’t intended on having (yet clearly should have predicted) about comparing linear and non-linear functions.

Overall, I was very impressed with their creativity, willingness to take risk in solving problems, their math talk or communication and general engagement. We are definitely ready to look at algebraic ways to solve these linear systems now.

This is a very large class of very noisy, bouncy, bubbly grade 10’s. I do think we are well-suited for each other. 🙂 A fun group.