The Zone of Proximal Development

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This past January I began cycling so that I could spend more quality time with my husband. However, over the last nine months, it has become my hobby as well. In my riding over the last few weeks, I've become more of a believer in the Zone of Proximal Development and its impact on the learning process. 

Ride Type #1 | The Senior Stroll

This summer I joined a cycling club full of retired men (and a few women) who go for a ride most days of the week, always ensuring the route stops at multiple bathroom and a coffee shop. Although some of these groups pushed me more than I like to admit, I went on a few rides that were painfully slow. I found myself having to work to not pedal, and at one point was driven crazy by a rider who insisted on stopping at every. single. stop sign... even those on deserted residential roads. I found myself bored and impatient.

 Elevation Gain on Metcalf Rd. - I walked up this hill in tears.

Elevation Gain on Metcalf Rd. - I walked up this hill in tears.

Ride Type #2 | Death Hills

I like to think I'm a pretty physically fit person. I have been known to run half marathons. I consistently work out. I've always like athletics. Yet, the moment that I see a hill, my body forgets how to breathe.  My husband, on the other hand, is also a mountain biker. Not only do hills not scare him, he thinks they're fun. Sometimes our routes find us on large, never-ending hills, and I shut down. There are tears, and I can't go on. It's just too much.

 The Zone of Proximal Development

The Zone of Proximal Development

Ride Type #3 | The Zone of Proximal Development

But there's another kind of ride that I love. It has sections of flats, but it also has some awesome rollers. I find myself having to work hard to get up hills, and one or two may even be a few minutes longer than I like. However, despite the challenge, they feel (and look) possible. And afterwards, I'm able to go down and coast a little before powering back up for the next hill. I leave these rides feeling like I've worked out and like I'm awesome because I conquered it. 

As I was riding my favorite ZPD ride last weekend from San Jose to Morgan Hill, I realized how this is the same for the learners in my classroom. Students sometimes experience those bored-out-of-their-minds classes that are too easy for them. Here they often become irritable. Other times, students are trying to attain what they view is unattainable, like I feel on hills. They're apt to shut down, unable to move on. Our goal as educators then, is to scaffold to get them into that ZPD. Yes, I realize this is precisely what you learned in your credential program, but it's way different when you're the one experiencing it. 

Here are a few other realizations from that process: 

Sometimes we need to let students set the learning pace. When I'm cycling hills, even in my ZPD, I like to be in the lead. This makes it so I don't have the pressure of keeping up with the person in front of me before I have the skills and the confidence to do so. As a less-experienced learner, it is empowering to set the pace so that you don't feel guilt/shame for not keeping up. 

Sometimes we need to lead students to the learning. In cycling, following closely behind the person in front of you makes the journey so much easier because the person in front of you is breaking the wind. This is known as drafting. There are many times where I am pulled along by the rider in front of me as they set the pace and break the wind. As educators, we sometimes need to break the wind of outside distractions and model for students pace & setting one foot in front of the other. 

We need to help students work on metacognition. The previous two points are pretty much in direct opposition. Even as an adult, I need to work to understand which one of these I need in the moment, and I need to work to communicate those needs to those I'm riding with. There is important non-curricular work in teaching students to identify and communicate their needs in the learning process. 

 

A Summer of Learning

Going into summer, I was dreading break. Two and a half months without much purpose, structure, or routine. Although I love vacation as much as (if not more than) the next girl, this prolonged vacation (while everyone else works) has the tendency to make me antsy and not very nice.

After a particularly restless summer in 2017, I wanted to be more proactive. And I’m happy to say, that although I wouldn’t necessarily characterize the last two months as “restful,” they have been invigorating and interesting and enjoyable.

This summer was all about new learning arenas for me. My brain, my heart, and my body, have been energized by the learning process.

 All conferences should be paired with hiking.

All conferences should be paired with hiking.

Arena 1 | Administration

Earlier this month, I had the privilege of attending the Educational Leadership Development Institute (ELDI) sponsored by my school’s accreditation organization. For 4+ days, I spent time exploring the many aspects of administration with other teacher-leaders throughout the U.S. & Canada. I loved learning about board governance and staffing and telling our schools' stories. Since then, my brain has been swirling with ideas and questions and passion for leadership.

Arena 2 | Instructional Design

This summer I’ve had the opportunity to do some instructional design work for Cumby Consulting, a medical device training company. I’ve loved learning about how education is working in a completely different industry. In the process, I’ve been able to learn new content, new tools, and new strategies for facilitating eLearning and in-person learning. It’s been so fun to watch this curriculum come to life.

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Arena 3 | Cycling

In January, I started cycling with my husband on the weekends. This summer I took it to the next level by joining the Almaden Cycle Tour Club. Once or twice a week I found myself with a bunch of retired guys (and the occasional woman), exploring San Jose on bike. I conquered hills I didn’t know I was capable of, forced myself out of my introverted bubble, and even learned to use clip-in pedals.


With August on the horizon, I’m thankful for this summer and the opportunity to learn and explore new things. I’m looking forward to continue to explore these things in the months and years to come, but I’m also looking forward to getting back in the classroom with students, where we’ll learn and grow together.
 

Job-Life Balance: A weight-loss plan

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I lost 20 pounds between August 1 and February 1 this year. Without a diet. Without a gym membership. Without a pyramid scheme. And it's been fun. It's made me happier. It's deepened my relationships. Although it started as a plan to get healthy and fit, it has become so much more than that to me. Now, it's about having a balance between my job and the rest of my life and being intentional in both. 

Scheduling Time to Run

The time I spend running is the time in my life where I feel accountable to no one. For 30-90 minutes, I'm able to shut off my brain and its struggle for perfection and just be. This summer we moved a half-mile from a county park with mountains on three sides; the trail within it reminds me to focus on the beauty around me. This August I started putting time on my calendar to run three to four days a week. This appointment forces me to leave school and come home and run. This time, it turns out, is way more restful for me than shopping or Twittering or cleaning my house. 

Taking Time to Cook

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When I first started teaching I ate pasta with marinara almost every night because it was cheap and easy, and I liked it. My love of food and cooking has greatly increased over the past seven years, and I've learned to eat much more nutritious food. And is it turns out, when you do so, you actually need to eat a lot less of it. When we decided to get healthy back in August we counted calories for about two weeks. In that time, we discovered that most Americans eat at least twice as much food for every meal as they should, and even more when going out.  Therefore, I started being even more intentional with my meal planning. I switched to a half sandwich (with lots of avocado... yum) instead of a whole. We started sharing a chicken breast instead of having our own. When going out, we always split. And we use a lot of good ingredients. I swear by my produce box, cookbook for two, and I'm now a huge fan of Epicurious after trying their #cook90. And all of that doesn't even mention all of the joy and depth of relationships in gathering around the table together each night

Being Outside Together

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I've almost completely given up working on the weekends in favor of adventuring. Living in San Jose makes this pretty easy. We have an amazing county park system and bike routes galore. Oh, and it's 75 degrees and sunny in the middle of February. Last January we started hiking with the Santa Clara County #pixinparks challenge, and it's now just become a part of who we are. On Saturday and Sunday we generally spend three hours outside together hiking or biking and chatting. We've found adventurous friends who love doing these things with us, and it fills my quality time bucket so much (not to mention the endorphins and vitamin D). Getting outside and away from our devices and work has been so freeing and life-giving as individuals and in community. 

Our focus is no longer on weight loss or "getting healthy." This has become who we are, and it's so fun and life-giving. Although I love working hard at my job, the balance and pursuit of life-giving activities has made me a healthier and happier person. I don't think I'll ever go back. 


As a side note, I have found some products in which I believe greatly. Check them out: 

I am a math teacher.

When I first started college, I entered as a math major, with a minor in English. I loved math. I loved the fluidity of how numbers worked. I loved how numbers could make sense of things. However, when I took Calc III the first semester of my freshman year, I quickly stopped loving math so much. It moved to theoretical, and if I'm honest, it was just hard. I soon changed my focus to English, keeping only a minor in math. 

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I entered the teaching field, then, focusing on English. I've always loved literature, and I love the plethora of ways I can creatively teach it.

However, since I went to college in Michigan, I was able to receive credentials in both my major and my minor subjects. Therefore, when staffing changed at my school a few years ago, I was asked to begin teaching a math class as well. 

At the time, I knew nothing about teaching math. However, I did know two really cool math teachers who both loved math, and more importantly, loved kids: John Stevens and Matt Vaudrey. At Back to School Night last night, I've realized just how much they've really impacted my math education philosophy. Here's what I've learned from watching their practice: 

Math should be fun. Math gets a bad wrap for being drill and kill and a bland lecture format. Although my math class still has moments of lecture, you'll often hear sound effects or hand movements or crazy wording to help us remember things.

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Math is more than a worksheet. I love teaching pre-algebra because so much of it is "real world" math. I've learned to look for how students might use our mathematical concepts in their world with their ideas. We do big projects and little projects and get our hands dirty as much as possible. 

Mathematical excellence can occur with little to no homework. The more I talk with families, especially here in the Bay, I'm struck by the soul-killing and family-killing nature of math homework. We can practice skills in class a lot and have little to no homework every night. Turns out this creates a way more math-loving culture, too. 

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Math can be a team sport. When I think back to my math classes, it's amazing how much of math class was listen to the teacher, do a worksheet by yourself. There's so much beauty to me in students working together to solve a problem. I love the mathematical conversations I hear in my room every day. 

The more time I spend processing the last several weeks of the beginning of the year, the more I realize that I am truly a math teacher. I'm not just a language arts teacher who teaches math anymore. I love watching my math students learn and create and work together and have fun. I love making crazy lessons for them that put our mathematical concepts to good use. I am a math teacher.

Give 'Em a Microphone!

"Middle school students are the most underestimated people in the world. I love that technology can amplify their voices." If you've heard me speak, you've probably heard me say this, but I believe it more every day. This week, my students gave TED-style speeches, and I was once again reminded how we need to give our students microphones and get out of the way. 

Our journey started by reading I Am Malala, and learning how the world isn't just our little San Jose bubble. We discussed religion and education and women's rights and terrorism and so many more big, heavy things. But in the midst of it all, we saw a girl who stood up for what she believed in, empowered by those around her. And when she was given a microphone, she just kept going. One day, in the midst of Malala and her friends' frustration with the Taliban, Malala's teacher and father helped them compose speeches and essays about their feelings on the issue. Soon, she was given a microphone. She writes, 

"And I knew in that instant that it wasn't me, Malala, speaking; my voice was the voice of so many others who wanted to speak but couldn't. Microphones made me feel as if I were speaking to the whole world" (71).

I want that for my students. I want them to be a voice for the voiceless. To stand up and speak to the world confidently about what they believe to be true. So we started on a journey. 

We began by watching Nancy Duarte's video on the secret behind great talks. She argues that all of the world's great speeches alternate back and forth between a "what is" and a "what could be." How perfect for standing up for the voiceless. 

My students chose topics that they were passionate about. We created sexy slides (thanks, Unsplash!), and we practiced. We said our speeches pacing back and forth on stage. We practiced with our shoes tied together. We shared with each other. We said it to the air. 

But then we took it to the stage. Under the lights, with a microphone, using a clicker. And their voices brought power. 

"Be strong in your opinion, but do it with wisdom, not foolishness, and do it with respect to those who have lost their lives fighting for the opportunity for you to speak out."

"Disregard everything, and run after what you love."

"How can you stop stereotypes and judging others?"

"I've never have had to worry about working or staying at home to cook or clean. All I've ever had to do is show up and learn."

"Instead of indulging in our own negative emotions and then affecting the people around us, we should learn how to release our emotions in another way."

"There are more than 63 million orphans around the world."

"Shoot for the stars, and never give up, living your worth, your voice, and your dreams."

I could go on and on and on. These students blew my mind with their poise and passion as they took the stage, the opportunity and the microphone empowering them to make a difference. 

Our students just need a chance to be heard. To share their passions. To ask their questions. To make a difference. Let's give them a microphone!