Tuesday, May 29, 2012

What I heard at #ConnectEdCa in Calgary

I just returned from an amazing weekend at #ConnectEdCa conference at Calgary Science School in Calgary, AB. The days were chock full of conversations, seminars and challenging ideas. But the most important thing I heard came from a 13 year old girl, a student at Calgary Science School.

Friday was the first day of the conference and school was still in session. Teachers at CSS opened their doors and allowed us to observe and interact with their students in an inquiry-based learning environment. One of my student tour guides, Alyssa, took me to her grade 8 math class. The students were using an online manipulative to explore algebra concepts. I asked her if the use of technology like this helped students learn. Her response:
"Well, every student is different. For me, I know I am a visual learner so this really helps me to see what's happening and understand what's going on."
3 things strike me about this comment. She knows every student has a different learning style. She knows her own learning style and how it helps her understand concepts. She knows how to advocate for herself to advance her learning.

It is perhaps inevitable that we would compare these students at CSS with our own students back home. Students at Frank Hurt Secondary are amazing. They come from a diverse spectrum of culture and socio-economic background. They produce amazing work to demonstrate their learning. But, for me, the most stark contrast is in Alyssa's confident knowledge of how she learns.

My math department has been exploring ways to improve our teaching and student learning. This in response to  one semester of high failure rates for our grade 9's. Unfortunately the conversation seems to centre around things we cannot control. Our students come from poverty, parents aren't involved, they are unprepared from Elementary school. Even innovative teaching methods (manipulatives, inquiry, technology) will have little impact on a student population who has learned from 7 frustrating years of math that they cannot succeed.

The real problem is, our students do not know how to learn. They have never been taught how to learn. They don't believe they can learn. It's time to change that. Let's teach learning skills as a part of the curriculum. Let's help students understand themselves and how they learn. Let's coach students to advocate for themselves in the classroom. Let's allow them to believe that learning is possible... even in math.

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