Hands On Your Data

Data, bring this up at meeting and the mood in the room changes, sometimes the room deflates – I know I have had those feeling sometimes.  However, data does play a role in helping us determine what is working and what isn’t.   Sometimes I wonder if I am even asking the right questions regarding our data?  Am I seeing trends?  One of the chapters in Smarter, Faster, Better by Charles Duhigg is called Absorbing Data and the story of the Cincinnati’s Elementary School Initiative caught my attention.

The story focused on teachers putting their assessment data on index cards every two weeks.  There was an index card for each student and once the data was on the cards they sorted them in to red, yellow and green piles and looked for any patterns.   After a few sessions of doing this one teacher started asking questions of the data and writing more than test scores on the cards – what questions did each student get wrong.  He asked another teacher of the same grade level to write same assessment data on their index cards and they grouped all the two classes of kids.  In doing this they found a pattern and developed a shared strategy to help their students.  The momentum continued with a different teacher asking a different question the following week and dividing their cards up to answer their question.  Another pattern emerged and another strategy was brainstormed and introduced and the conversations and problem solving seemed to grow.

We can all look a charts and tables until our eyes go blurry.  After our eyes reset does anyone look at the charts and numbers again or do they just sit in a data binder?  What I pondered about from this story was that even though there was some more work on the teachers part with recording the data – the hands-on process of sorting the kids using index cards led to more discussion, questions and explorations of the data.  If they just looked at the numbers and reflected on it – would the same questions be asked?  Would the same conversations happen?

So, I like this idea of asking a question about our assessment data and then a tactile way to organize it.  How would I use this in my math class next semester?  What would be my system?  And probably most importantly, how will it change how I work with my students to help them them learn the skills and content of the course?  Who can I talk to about my student data questions and trends that I see?


Can You Become an Innovation Broker?

Smarter, Faster, Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg is a book that I had heard about a little while ago and checked it out of the library.  It sat on my table and for whatever reason I didn’t read it. I returned it to the library and after reading a few more blog posts and listening to some podcasts, it came up a few more times so I signed it out again and this time I took the time to read it and I am glad that I did.  I enjoyed the story telling the most in the book but had a couple of take aways – one on innovation and one on data which I still need to think about a bit more and will write about next.

One of the sections that stuck with me the most was the chapter on innovation, a term that is used quite a bit in education.  In the book, creativity is about mixing old ideas with a few new ones in a different way than thought of in the past.  I liked this type of definition of creativity – it isn’t about creating something completely new, which I believe is a lot of folks mindsets and can be a roadblock, but it’s remixing and tweaking.  “Creative” people seem to be good at taking ideas from different areas and mixing them together better than the “less creative” person is the sense I get from this section. However… a few quotes that I were significant to me:

The creative process is, in fact, a process, something that can be broken down and explained.  That’s important, because it means that anyone can become more creative; we can all become innovation brokers. (pg 237)

How do I become an better innovation broker?  How do I help the staff and students at my school become innovation brokers?  Will this framework help us move ahead as a school community?

The appendix has a summary of the big ideas here are the ones for innovation.  All points I will return to as we work to be better at my school.

  • Creativity often emerges by combining old ideas in new ways – and “innovation brokers” are key.  To become a broker yourself and encourage brokerage within your organization:

  • Be sensitive to your own experiences.  Paying attention to how things make you think and feel is how we distinguish cliches from real insights.  Study your own emotional reactions.

  • Recognize that the stress that emerges amid the creative process isn’t a sign everything is falling apart.  Rather, creative desperation is often critical: anxiety can be what often pushes us to see old ideas in new ways.

  • Finally, remember that the relief accompanying a creative breakthrough, while sweet, can also blind us to alternatives.  By forcing ourselves to critique what we’ve already done, by making ourselves look at it from different perspectives, by giving new authority to someone who didn’t have it before, we retain clear eyes. (the previous 4 bullet points are from pg 283)

I think as we try and improve in schools it is important to look at what we do in school as well as what is done outside education – is there something that can be combined that would be better for our students and learning?  Could the different ideas (or strategies) be from within a school but from different departments?  How can we promote a sharing of ideas and get people talking?  Maybe I need to think about that pineapple chart talked about in the Hacking Education book I read a while ago.

Who are my innovation brokers at school? How do I support them? What skills, routines, and strategies do I need to develop or improve to become an innovation broker?  Good questions that will tumble in my head for sometime.

Act your way . . .

“It’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting.” – Millard Fuller

This was a quote I heard on a recent podcast of the Tim Ferris Show with A.J. Jacobs (someone I haven’t heard of before) and it struck me the first time it was said in the show and at the end when it was repeated.

The last time I heard it I was shovelling the snow off the driveway and it had me wondering how does the quote relate to education.  Is it a way to challenge one’s paradigms and reflect on practice?  For example, if someone doesn’t use formative assessment in their classroom because they believe their current way is much better – can they be challenged to act like they are doing formative assessment to see what happens? Would their beliefs about formative assessment change?    Maybe this example is a bad one, or too broad, perhaps a simpler task – act like you want to get to know your students better by greeting them at the door to be more welcoming.  Does this make a difference for your relationships with kids and kids learning in your class?  Would they change?

Is act your way into a new way of thinking the same as fake it to you make it? Not sure; however, the quote hit and stuck with me for some reason.

The Active Ice Breaker

We met some great friends and their kids yesterday for a rainy afternoon of sledding and time at their house catching up.  The kids hadn’t seen each other since the summer, and while they get along fantastically, the first chunk of time can be a little slow in re-connecting.

Yesterday’s sled activity was a great way to do the re-connecting – being active and having fun let them have easy conversations to get the visit going.

Can these active conversations and opening ice-breakers be transferred to the classroom?  Will have to think about how I can incorporate a strategy like this in my math classroom for Semester 2 – is there a different spin I can take on the opening week of community building activities?


Recent Reads

Winter break always provides some extra time for reading and so far I have finished two books.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline was a book that AJ Juliani  mentioned in his blog post The Best Books of 2016 for Teachers (And Learners).  Always interested in reading a fiction book over the break I looked to see if this was available at our local library, it was and I grabbed it.  Once I started it was hard to put down and I finished it in few days.  Set in 2045 and has lots of 80s references – Atari 2600, TRS-80 and tons of songs and movies – the story is a good one!

I have recently started listening to the The Tim Ferris Show Podcast and on one podcast with Peter Diamandis  he talked about his book Bold and what he had written about.  Although the book was more business focused and entrepreneurship I was intrigued.  I checked the book out of the library and it was another one I couldn’t put down.  Some of the take aways from the book:

  • Exponential technology and the five that are going to change the world
  • the secrets of skunk and how this could relate to education – is this a “design” process that could be used to help us in what schools could like?  Is this even doable in a school or district?
  • the 10x strategy – if you are going to change go for 10x better not 10% better than the status quo.  Again, how would this relate to education and how we look at solving our issues?
  • Google’s 8 Innovation principles – some great principles here and again leaves me to think how would these principles be applied to education?
  •  The billionaire wisdom chapter that gave me a glimpse into Elon Musk (Tesla), Richard Branson (Virgin), Larry Page (Google) and Jeff Bezos (Amazon) – all names I have heard of but didn’t know much about other than the companies they are most connected with.
  • Crowd sourcing, crowd funding, building community – some great info and step by step stuff

I can’t help but think – how could some of these principles and ideas be used in education?  Some of the mindsets on change and disruption are intriguing to me and I wonder how this might transfer to our problem solving that we need to do in education.  If you get a chance to read the book – I encourage you do that – I would love to hear your thoughts on what you learned!

From Out There Somewhere – 16.12.2016

Here are some things that I have been reading and/or watching lately.

10 Ideas for Google’s 2016 Education on Air Conference

How will I use these next semester in my math class?

6 Videos to Spark Creative Thinking

some ideas for design thinking projects

8 “rules of the road” for better mental health

a good analogy to share with staff, students and others

5 Simple Ways to Give Students Feedback During During Project Based Learning #HackPBL

use of conferencing, written feedback and mini-lessons

How To Manage Obstacles That Keep You From Achieving Your Personal Goals

10 Things to think about and a “try this” for each one

Use Winter Break to Renew Your Spirits and Sense of Purpose

Some techniques to ease stress and recharge

10 Learnings From 10 Years of Brain Pickings (animated)

Read and liked the original post but enjoyed the animated version – worth the 7 minutes