Yesterday, I had the amazing opportunity to present at the OTF – Teaching Math Through Problem Solving Conference. When Mary-Kay Goindi initially asked me to present, she emphasized that it was important to have hands-on components to the sessions. I decided to facilitate two sessions that were connected together: one on Math Through Play and one on Documentation. I was excited to bring some “free play” to the conference, and hopefully get people thinking about the math that happens in the everyday and that can be extended through noticing and naming math behaviours.
As Mary-Kay noted in her tweet yesterday morning, I did not pack light for this conference.
— Mary-Kay Goindi (@MKGoindi) July 6, 2017
(Note that the suitcase that’s beside the cart was full of materials as well.)
I’m a big believer in the fact that a Kindergarten classroom provides an optimum learning environment for kids. Math becomes embedded in the whole day, and students really start to see themselves as mathematicians: asking questions, solving problems, and using mathematical vocabulary that we have exposed them to throughout the year. Since I couldn’t bring the people to our classroom, I decided to bring our classroom to the people.
— Aviva Dunsiger (@avivaloca) January 19, 2017
I really wanted to make this learning authentic, so I chose to present the materials, in much the same way as we present them.
- There were no signs.
- There were no posted questions or activities.
- I told the participants that they could touch everything, move things around, and use items in any way that they wanted.
For both sessions, I created Padlet walls, where people could add links, ideas, questions, and comments. During the Documentation session, I also printed some documentation examples to include around the room, and encouraged people to document their play: even talking to other educators during the process, as a way to analyze what they observed and discuss and determine some possible next steps. I was so excited about this! I loved the fact that these sessions were not going to be “sit and get” ones, and that as teachers played more, they could discuss different options to link “learning” and “play” in all grades. I’ll admit that in my dream world of how this was all going to come together, we would all get to listen to and participate in rich discussions, ask questions, and leave with new ideas to contemplate and new things to try.
And while this did happen with a group of participants, something else also happened: in both sessions, the majority of people left early. In the second session, the room almost cleared out completely as soon as I told people that they could “start playing.” In the first session, it took a little longer for this to happen. Some people came to talk to me first, and a few were surprised that our “play time” is our “learning time,” and all tools become “math tools.” Our conversations continued for a little while, but often after talking (and normally without playing), people left. On one hand, I can attribute people leaving to factors such as,
- this was the second day of the conference, and people were tired.
- there were lots of interesting sessions happening at the same time, and people wanted to see other ones.
- my second session was close to lunch, and people were hungry.
- many people attended both of my sessions, so by the end of the second one, they may have seen and explored everything.
- people got the ideas and the links to the presentations. Maybe for some people, this was enough.
But on the other hand, I’m left worrying and wondering if there were other reasons for them leaving.
- Did the sessions not meet their needs? Should I have shown a bigger variety of examples to the full group, and not just have included the links in the Padlets?
- Did I “release responsibility” too early? Did we need to engage in more playing and documenting as a full group before people went to do so on their own?
- Was “free play” too “free” for adults? Are we looking for “instructions,” and does this eventually lead students to do the same? How might we change this, and is this something that’s worth changing?
- “Sit and get” PD is often criticized (I do this as well), but is this what some people wanted? Why? Or did I just need to find a better middle ground?
Criticism is rarely easy to take, but I think that we can learn a lot from all kinds of feedback. I’m making inferences based on my observations from yesterday, and while I did receive some very positive feedback, I also can’t ignore what I saw. Now I’m hoping to hear more. If you were at these sessions, what did you think, and if you weren’t, what might you suggest based on what I shared here? Yesterday, I was excited about the possibilities of “play,” and while some play happened, many materials were left untouched. The learner and questioner in me, needs to find out why.
— Melissa Armstrong (@MsArmstrong_YR) July 6, 2017
Can you help?