Network Spaghetti: Mentoring

3/04/2008 10:30:00 pm

I think being able to understand how different people understand the same idea is essential to deep learning. That's why having mentors work with my students has been such a critical part of how I orchestrate their learning spaces; their blogs.

My classes have been enriched beyond measure by the thoughtful, and thought provoking, comments left my students by visitors to their blogs. Lani Ritter Hall (Ohio), Roland O'Daniel (Kentucky), and Emina Alibegovic (Michigan) have each pushed my students thinking in different ways. Lani, as a non-math educational consultant, has always asked them to dig deep into their learning styles and motivation for success. Roland, as a former math teacher, has focused on both the motivation and the specific content of what they write. And Emina, as a professor of mathematics at the University of Michigan has pushed them to dig deep and explore their mathematical (mis)understandings to better understand what they are learning.

Last semester Alec Couros and I collaborated to have two of his classes of student teachers (Regina, Saskatchewan) mentor my grade 10 Consumer Math class. The experience helped my kids grow as learners and Alecs' students grow as teachers.

Some of my students have been mentored for three years now, having taken all their high school mathematics courses with me. And they're starting to pay it all forward ... and backward.

I've blogged before about the excellent work two of my students, Grey-M and Mr SiWwy, are doing with Clarence and Barbara's classes in the Thin Walled Classroom. Now Mark has begun another unique mentorship project with my current Pre-Cal 40S (grade 12 pre-calculus) class.) (I'd be grateful towards anyone who left m@rk a comment over there.)

Mark took Pre-Cal 40S and has already earned his grade 12 credit. He did really well and wants to upgrade his mark so he's taking it again. All he really wants to do is challenge the final exam. We discussed it. He decided it would be a good idea to take the class again. He's taking Advanced Placement courses that conflict with the timetable for my class. We've worked out an arrangement whereby he can stay on top of his work without attending every one of my classes (all a repeat for him) so he can pursue his Advanced Placement courses concurrently. So Mark is mentoring his classmates, who he doesn't see every day, and he's doing some really amazing work!! Like Grey-M and Mr SiWwy, he's leaving comments on the class blog and archiving them with some reflections on a separate blog in order to aggregate all the content he's producing in one place. This allows me (and anyone else) to easily follow his work. Also, it will be a concrete archive of his learning and teaching that he can take with him when he leaves high school.

Recently, I've begun talking with Chris Lehmann (the principal at SLA) about having one or more of my students mentor one of the students at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia who wants to pursue some advanced math on her own. Mark is the first student to volunteer to do this.

All these connections criss cross in all sorts of unexpected ways. It starts to look like network spaghetti:

Lani mentored my kids for almost three years. They pay it back by mentoring Clarence's kids and Lani starts a conversation with Grey-M and Mr SiWwy (my two student mentors) about effective mentoring in the course of their work with Clarence's and Barbara's kids. When Alec's student teachers come online and ask: "What does a good mentor's comment look like?" I point them to a comment Grey-M (my student) left one of Clarence's kids. So Alec's students learn the art of mentoring from my older students and pass that on to my younger (mathematically wounded) students all the while Lani and my two older students (Grey-M and Mr SiWwy) are engaged in this high level discussion (call it PD) about how to be effective mentors the results of which model good mentorship for the student teachers in Regina. Full circle.

And now m@rk is continuing this thread with his classmates on their class blog.

I suspect Al Upton will be having similar experiences; if he hasn't already. ;-)

Photo credits: thinking red,green and black by jmsmytaste
looking up by platinumblondelife
FSM At Atlantis by WilWheaton

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  1. This is where I see so much potential in this method of learning. You have a real talent in helping the students towards making those connections. I left a comment for m@rk. Your writing helps me see beyond the beginnings I am making this year.

  2. I am a math teacher from Colorado and a fan of the scribe posts that your classes do and have tried it myself I have found that my students have not bought into the community that I believe is the purpose of the scribe post. In the future I would like to attempt to a "thin-walled" classroom with my students so that the collaboration and connections to others are more necessary and not forced like they have been this year. Anyone interested? Thanks for the inspiration and the work that you do.

  3. Anonymous20/3/08 22:54

    @njtechteacher Thanks for the comment you left m@rk. It was wonderful. I need to find the time to further the involvement of outside mentors in my classes more than I have been.

    @Chris I'm interested!! We're just at mid-term in this semester now. My schedule should lighten up a bit the second week in April. We should skype. ;-)