Saturday, March 28, 2020

The Next Wave

In February and early March, I had the opportunity to teach my first college-level course. My audience was student teachers and the topic was effective data use.

I was both excited and a little terrified. It was a great opportunity to share some learning on an important topic that doesn't often get much attention as teachers prepare to join the workforce. But, it was designated as a 10-hour elective, so I made myself think of it as an extended workshop. A few years ago, I did a Data Academy in my district that consisted of six 90-minute it didn't feel like too big of a stretch to do five 2-hour sessions. Since the Data Academy, I have also developed and presented a lot of other content at various conferences and in other spaces. The twist on all of this was that I needed to target an entirely new audience.

I used a framework from this article to organize the course: Mandinach, E. B., & Gummer, E. S. (2016). What does it mean for teachers to be data literate: Laying out the skills, knowledge, and dispositions. Teaching and Teacher Education, 60, 366-376. During the first session, I had the students identify their level of familiarity with each of the five major areas of the framework, along with the items under each that they'd most like to learn. This provided me with some direction for the rest of the sessions.

You can access my course materials here:

How it all went down
I didn't do much in the way of assignments. I asked them to read two research articles and we used two examples from Observe, Collect, Draw to provide them with some practice collecting and representing data. I really just wanted them to immerse themselves in the discussions during our time together. It was, after all, an elective...and they were plenty stressed out with other coursework. I wanted them to have a positive experience with data.

We also did some activities modified from the Data Therapy project. These included the paper spreadsheet, find a story, and build a sculpture. I had been wanting to try some of these for awhile and hadn't had a group for this. My favourite was the sculpture activity. I've had the coloured blocks and tiles for a couple of years and it was great to provide them, along with some data, and have small groups of students physically model a story they thought was important to tell from the data. I didn't allow them to write or annotate until the very end. (We did three rounds of data/revision.) I really enjoyed hearing their thoughts about that experience. Many of them noticed the same things that I have about manipulating data physically with your hands. It's such a powerful and personal experience. Magical.

Lessons learned
I think I did an okay job. Most of the time, I paced things well and brought the right resources. As always, I should have aimed for "Less me, more them." I would have liked to structure the discussions a bit better and given them more time to practice using data when we were together. We didn't have access to a computer lab and not everyone had a laptop, so I didn't spend any time on Excel basics, which I think would have been one of the most useful things to send them out the door with. But, I did give them some rich opportunities to think with data...and that will serve them well.

I heard from a professor in the program that students talked about my class a lot in their other classes...that they were showing her lots of great pictures of their work...and that a few had said it was the highlight of the winter quarter for them. The students themselves gave me a wonderful thank you card, a $50 gift card, and a little notebook to use for capturing data. Very sweet of them!

I don't know if I'll get the opportunity to teach the class again. This particular format was brand new for the university and they will need to evaluate its success before making decisions about next year. I am so grateful for the opportunity...and also that I was able to finish the class just moments before the transition to all classes being online. I greatly enjoyed being with these almost-beginning teachers. The next wave coming to our classrooms is going to be amazing.

I was taking a break from presenting this year. And then I got asked to share some of my data stories at a conference session in December...and asked to develop this university course...and a couple of other things, too. I said "Yes" to all of them, even if they were daunting. I am glad that as the world becomes more closed for the next year or so that I had the opportunity to reach out in those ways. I have to believe that there will be chances to do so again. I hope all of you are finding ways to share and connect and celebrate learning from wherever you are holding in place.

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