Since I’ve been out of the classroom, I’ve been on my own to seek out professional development. As a classroom teacher, I had numerous district-mandated PD sessions before school started every year, not to mention in-service days throughout the school year. My district also offered summer PD for a couple of weeks every July, and because I’m a big nerd when it comes to learning more about teaching, I always took advantage of what they offered me.

Nowadays I don’t have a district planning and offering PD to me on a regular basis, so I have to do a bit more legwork to make it happen. However, the benefit is that I tend to seek out and find things I’m personally interested in rather than doing something dictated by my district or principal. (Not that I disliked what they offered, mind you, but there is something be said for making your own PD choices.)

Last year, for example, I took @joboaler’s online course How To Learn Math. Considering I have 8 years of experience teaching math, I felt silly telling my co-workers that I was taking a course with that title. However, the course was fantastic and I’m glad I took part. As a foster parent, it was particularly beneficial because it helped me think more about how I’m talking math with a kiddo every single day and how different that is from talking math with a class of students for about 60 minutes per day, 5 days per week, for only 36 weeks a year.

Right now I’m taking a course called Teaching Middle School Math with Sketchpad. I was kind of hoping to take the elementary school version of the course because I have an elementary school teaching background, but unfortunately there weren’t enough people signed up for that course to make. I’m actually happy I’m taking the middle school version because I think the elementary one would have been too much reaffirming of things I already know, whereas the middle school course is making me re-examine content that I took in school but I haven’t personally taught to kids.

Basically, I get to learn all the cool ways to teach these concepts and feel jealous that way back when I was in middle school, I was taught a very traditional approach where everything was step-by-step with little to no exploration. I won’t go so far as to say kids have it easy these days, but they sure do have a lot of tools available to make it interesting work!

In addition to learning how Sketchpad can help students explore math concepts in interactive, visual ways, I’m also learning how to apply it to my job. As I mentioned yesterday, I’m leading a team that is converting grade 4 and 5 curriculum into our new Digital Teaching Platform. Unfortunately, as part of the upgrade to the new platform, we did change some functionality, and I have had to periodically do some problem solving to ensure that lessons aren’t adversely affected.

Sketchpad can’t solve all of my problems, but it has come in handy already. For example, in a lesson on multiplying by 10 and 100, the original lesson included two Excel spreadsheets that acted as calculation machines. Students could use a slider to change the first factor while the second was locked at 10 or 100. They explored changing the first factor and watching what happened to the product. In our new DTP, we don’t want to have to send students out to a program like Excel, so I had to think of a way to recreate these calculating machines in another way.

We just so happen to have an applet in our content generation studio that lets us embed interactive sketches within lesson screens. What perfect timing that I’m in the middle of this 6-week Sketchpad course! I’m no pro at Sketchpad, but I was pretty proud of myself that in about 15 minutes I was able to create a sketch that exactly mimics the functionality of the Excel file from the original lesson.

Well, that’s a lie. It was more like 30 minutes. I encountered a problem with the slider I made. Despite everything *looking* like it worked, the value of the first factor multiplied by 10 or 100 was not giving me the correct product. (I can only imagine the conclusions students would draw if they used this version of my sketch.) To make a long story short, and because it really is hard to explain with no pictures, I called my co-worker Meredith and together we brainstormed and figured out that Sketchpad has an ability to truncate values which solved my problem. Yay!

I’m not sure I’ll have the time to become a Sketchpad expert, but I am happy to have it in my toolbox now. As new design challenges arise in my job, even if I can’t personally make something I want, I’m learning enough about the program to know if it could provide the right solution and to be able to talk to an expert to get it made.

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