Wednesday, November 30, 2011

College is for Life

I received news yesterday that the 2012 reunion at St. Matthias College in England where I did my undergraduate studies will be the last to be held at the college. Although the College closed as a teacher education institution in the late 1970s  the campus became part of the University of the West of England(UWE) where academic departments were housed and classes were held. Now, UWE  has decided to close the campus next summer. This raises the real possibility that the beautiful old buildings with all their ghosts and memories may well be razed to make room for housing, offices or worst of all, perhaps a shopping mall. 

On several of my trips back to the "auld sod" I have visted the college and strolled the hallowed hallways and pretended to play croquet on the lawn or field hockey on the sports field, or even listen to my favorite lecturer in one of the lecture rooms. It always seemed so permanent, one of life's anchors that would always be there. There is always something undemanding and unconditional about the role physical structures play in our life voyages. It's almost impossible to imagine it not being there. 

On the other hand, the personal connections one makes at college can change with the times, are much more maleable and flexible, and, perhaps, a lot more valuable in the long run. My memories of my college-friends live on through Facebook contacts and a wonderful web-site, Old Lags,  run by Ade George, one of my good college friends. It's been one of life's treasures to watch the lives of one's friends unfold from afar. Some have stayed close to home and others, like me, have flown far to new worlds and cultures in which they have made their homes and lived out their lives.  

Our college days are to be treasured for what they are but they can also be seen as the acorns to the oak trees of our lives and nurtured and valued over a lifetime through both their physical structures and the wonderful friendships we made.  

Monday, November 21, 2011

Schema; the Blueprints of Teaching and Learning

One of the things we talk about in Teacher  Education is the idea of schema or the way children  put ideas, facts, feelings, attitudes and information together so that they make sense. In fact, we probably all use schema, in one way or another, in just about everything we do. It's a way of making sense of the world, of looking at the relationships between things, of making decisions or operationaliziing our ideas.

When I am supervising my student teachers in their student teaching experience I use Frances Fuller's Stages of Concerns Model as a means of determining where my students are in their development as teachers. The model has three basic stages through which students pass, quite naturally,  from the moment they first set foot in their classrooms. The first stage comprises a set of survival concerns; (Can I do this? Do I look the part? Will I last 16 weeks?) The second stage of concerns is all about their ability to teach; (Am I using the technology properly? Am I planning my lessons effectively? Is my classroom management working?) Finally, and this is the exciting part, their concerns focus on the students; (Are they learning? Are they engaged in what they're doing? Are they constructing meaning?)

This series of concerns is actually played out over and over again each time the student has a new classroom experience from their very first one in Schools and Society to the last, the student teaching experience. It even happens again when they get their first job as a licensed teacher. I remember my first week teaching my first 4th grade class as if it were yesterday especially after my Headmaster said to me "Do you realize that if those 34 4th graders you're about to meet all decide to sit there and ignore you there's not a thing you can do about it?" That advice assured the length of my survival concerns was the absolute minimum.      

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Busy, Busy, Busy Time.

It's been a busy few weeks with stacks of papers to read, student teachers to observe in their solo weeks and conference presentations to make. It's also been a busy week for the St. Michael's Teaching Gardens where a new, large stone was installed faced on one side with a chalkboard. It looks like the first person to take advantage of this chalky mode of expression was a math person (although maybe not as members of the SMC Math Department have assured us that the expressions don't make a whole lot of sense). It's fun to write on a chalkboard again as they finally disappeared from school classrooms with the advent of computers which are allergic to chalk dust.

The conferences I presented at were quite different but there was a common theme of mathematics education. The first was the annual Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress in Worcester, Mass. on November 3, where I presented a paper on teaching math to students with Down Syndrome.  The presentation comprised four parts; some theory, some math, some Andrew and some applications. These four aspects of teaching are based on the idea that you have to make connections between your theoretical  understanding of math, your knowledge of the student you are working with, and the available applications for helping the student interact with the math.

The second presentation was yesterday at the annual ATMNE (Association of Teachers of Mathematics in New England) conference and focused on the application of the idea of the referent unit in elementary school math. It's something we often don't think about but has a significant impact on the way children develop their ideas of quantitative literacy. For example, in 1/2 x 1/2 = 1/4, what is the 1 (the referent unit)  of each fraction if  we are asking what is half of the first half of a football game? No wonder operations with fractions is so difficult.    

Friday, November 4, 2011

Remember, Remember the 5th November

When I was a child growing up in England one of the poems I learned by heart in school was;

     Remember, remember the 5th November
     the gunpowder treason and plot
     I see no reason the gunpowder treason
     should ever be forgot.
     Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes,
     t'was his intent
     to blow up the King and the Parliament
     Three score barrels of powder below
     Poor old England to overthrow
     By God's providence he was catch'd
     With a dark lantern and burning match
     Halloa boys, halloa boys make the bells ring
     Halloa boys, halloa boys, God save the King
                                               Hip, hip, hoorah.

The poem commemorates the deeds of Guy Fawkes who tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament during a ceremonial opening by King James I in 1605. Every year on November 5th children and their families light bonfires, topped with a stuffed effigy of Guy made from old clothes, in their back yards and let off fireworks. Such was the excitement of it all that the word "fifth" now can mean nothing else to me, and probably every other British person, than November 5th,

This is a wonderful example of how out cultures are ingrained with numbers. Not only our cultures but our subcultures and our individual lives. 89 can mean nothing else to me than I89, the Interstate road that I drive on twice a day to and from St. Mike's. 217 is important to me because it is my house number while 19 has a special place because it is the day I was born on. What numbers are important in your culture and  in your life? These significant numbers are important to children as they learn math in school and see its relevance in their daily lives.

Students in my ED325 Teaching Math and Science course will soon be completing their Math eNotebook assignment in which they have to find the math in their favorite past-time or activity. Hopefully, graduates from my course will be able to help children see just how relevant math is in their lives in not only a utilitarian sense but in an aesthetic sense as well.