Better?… Best?…Different?

Place and date:  Unimportant

Activity: Lunch break

It took me by surprise that a curator spoke about gardener X by saying:
“He is the best”…
It also took me some time to understand why this bothered me.

A little background is needed here so we understand each other.  I am an educator, no longer spending all my daily hours in the classrooms as I did for 30 years.  I spend some of my free time now as a volunteer in a botanical garden.  In the garden as in the classroom, there are different needs and displays of strength and beauty.  Some plants need care at the start of the dormant season others preferred to be cut in spring, yet they all do their own thing when they bloom.

Children have different individual needs, but if we provide the right conditions they all come into their beauty, they all are able to learn.  I hope we can agree on the following points:

  • All children can learn.
  • Community affects learning.
  • Learning is personal.

Recently education is under scrutiny in the US, we compare our student’s performance in international tests to other nations, we ponder about the advantages of private, public or charter education, we discuss teacher quality and preparation, and so on.  Mostly we worry about testing: standardized, high stakes test control our educational endeavors: how to make them and who should, when to administer them, how to prepare the students for it, who should mark them, what to test.

In the process we forget the different needs of our students, the fact that learning is a process, and it is personal.  We pressure students to master a concept when they are not ready, we label them according to their test scores: level 1, 2, 3 or 4.

Children learn better in a relaxed environment, collectively guided by a skilled professional, using good materials to keep interest, provide challenges and support them in a productive struggle. Concept development is a very important part of learning and it is a personal process arrived at by exploration and reflection, trial and error.  Testing is not a teaching tool for student’s it is only useful if the data we collect informs our practice.

The plants in the garden do not grow because I measure them, no gardener is “the best”, they are different, just like children and plants.

Classification in Learning Math

The knowledge forms and changes through a process. Therefore, it is more important for pupils to learn to connect and to arrange information through experiences and observations than to learn to memorize single facts. A pupil constructs connections actively between new information and his/her own data structure. The more there are these connections, the more useful the information in question is to the pupil.

When approaching a new concept classification gives a good method for student to arrange previous understanding and knowledge.   During classifying pupils begin to arrange the concept on the base of it’s properties. Classifying supports active learning while pupils are talking with their pair or group.

In Paths to Math we use e.g. classification when pupils are approaching a new concept or strengthening one. For example we use this method in classifying solids, surface areas, terms etc.



In general Mathematics is believed to be a field only accessible to people with innate abilities.  Based in experience and results we believe that Mathematics is accessible to all given different methods used for teaching and learning.

To Use or Not To Use Technology?

Modern technologies have changed the way students learn and what we can use to teach them. Gone are the days of paper and pencil, a chalkboard in front of the room and rows of desks.  This is not to say that we are not able to use some of these at times, but as children have been changing with the advent of screens all around them and the use of touch-technology, we are less able to keep their attention and reach them with only those tools.

This change is only beginning to happen and due to the changing needs we see publishing companies reinventing themselves by making textbooks available on line and multiple teaching Apps appearing in the market.  Unfortunately, turning pages in a screen does not make a book more interesting, and playing a multiplication game only helps students with one small part of the curriculum.

At the same time as educators we ask ourselves whether or not to use one App or adopt a certain textbook.  In the fast changing world of today we also need the time to discern and compare all these options. It is also true that our own knowledge and personal relationship to technology affects the decisions we make regarding many of these issues.  In addition money, is a constraint as school districts ponder with decreasing budgets.

One of the realities of today’s fast changing technological world is that our own children and the ones we teach are natives of the 21st century, somewhat more comfortable and capable to understand these innovations.  I recall babysitting my favorite 2 years old two years ago and realizing that she could not speak much, but knew that pictures of her were taken with a cell phone and was able to prompt me to take one of her and even pose for it.

Accepting that our students are technology natives may seem the same as allowing them to be learning alone from a device that we find somewhat intimidating.  Let me elaborate here. Most 2 year olds today will touch the screen of an I-pad in the right way to make things happen, but if I do not guide them to the App where they are looking at animals and listening to their call, for example, they may end up mesmerized just by the control they have of the screen and look at any other file not necessarily educational.

I think the key word here is “control” and I will use it now.  A teacher overwhelmed by the lack of control s/he has of the class, may long for a computer lab where each child will interact with a screen and be involved.  In the same way, a mother (or a father?) overwhelmed by their daily chores 30 years ago may have used the TV as a way to control tired children.  Now that I used the word, I will go on: the factory approach of all children in desks, learning the same concept all at once, was an easy way to control 25 to 30 children together in the same room with only one adult.

I will ask you:

  • Just because a child is involved with a screen, is s/he learning?
  • Is the purpose of education to control the minds or to expand them?
  • As educators, should we give control of what and how to learn to our technology natives, or should we attempt to guide them?
  • How do we measure their learning now that we are accepting learning as an individual process?

Dear reader, I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic of technology use in the classroom,

  • How are you using it? Or why you are not using it?
  • Why do you think it is enhancing learning or not?
  • What are the challenges that you encounter?
  • If you are a parent, your opinion will be very helpful also

And if you can circulate this blog to other parents, teachers, student, all opinions welcome, thanks,

Cecilia Villlabona

The Teacher’s Role in Tomorrow’s Classroom

I am not a technology native, not a 21st century learner, in fact I took some time to embrace technology and become comfortable with it.  It was my job as a teacher to be able to communicate with my students, and that was my motivation to start the journey.

My introduction to computers happened over 15 years ago, and currently I celebrate my computer, the Internet, my I-phone, and more in the awareness that I am not the same person, as I ask myself at times if I have lost something important or found some greatness?

The classroom is historically a room where students and teachers meet to exchange knowledge in order to make learning happen.  Let’s ask some out-of-the-box questions:

  • Is the teacher also learning, or only the pupils?
  • Are they all learning the same things at the same time, or are there individual differences?
  • Is the learning self directed and totally individual, or is someone in charge of directing it?
  • Do all parties involved have to occupy the same physical space, or can we be away from each other, connected by a question and/or a computer?

I will share my answers with you, I the one who was first a teacher in a world without computers, the one I am today as I celebrate my electronic devices:

  • A good teacher learns constantly from the students.
  • Learning is a process and it does not happen at once to all involved.
  • Students learn as much from each other’s questions and answers as from the teacher/text/computer/app, etc.

This complexity is one of the many reasons why education is a difficult profession, yet a beautiful one for those who love the challenges and believe that children are the future.

In my opinion there is no substitute for an educated skilled teacher.  Experience is also important.  No computer app, artificial intelligent computer aided instruction program, Internet site or worksheet will educate our students.  Some of these will capture their interests and hold their attention for some time but never will replace the teacher.

I believe the most important element for learning is the teacher-student interactions, all other modern technologies to be used as tools to support this relationship.

With this idea in mind we have created Paths to Math an web-based learning environment combining advanced pedagogical methods with current mobil learning capabilities.

For a free trial visit: and use activation code: SHJGSJH

How can I teach 30 kids at once?

I love New York City! One of the things I love most about this city is the subway, which I use for my goings about in town.  This Monday I was on my way to Brooklyn in the F train when a woman came in and sat in front of me.  She was middle age, good looking, had short hair, and was wearing a very large coat.  Most striking however it was the fact that she was holding on to a child’s hand on each side. As I took a closer look I could see the girls were identical twins, beautiful and about 4 years old (sometimes I wonder if I look at this age child because there is one that I adore!) but let me not divert, there is a point I want to make here.  Both girls looked worried or sad, their eyes told me that much, and the woman kept holding their hands and speaking softly taking turns to each one from side to side, in what looked as a comforting speech. I imagine maybe they were going to school for the first time and worried about it, or had a doctor’s appointment and were afraid of the shots, so many things that can worry a 4 years old child!  I could not hear the conversation, I could only wonder, but I could clearly read the eyes.

That is when I found myself relating to this trio, first as a mother, in that she had to divide her attention evenly between two same age children, probably with very similar needs all the time.  Then as a teacher with a class full of students trying to explain the same concept to 30 of them at many different levels of readiness and understanding!  How impossible to do this in a lesson that I wrote paced and delivered while looking at eyes that showed angst, doubt, disinterest, sadness, or eyes that did not even want to look up to what was being explained.  I decided that teaching in this model was not the best to serve my students.

To reach my students I needed to speak to them for small periods of time to deliver nuggets of information and provide them with opportunities to apply and expand this knowledge through interactions with one another: group work, rewriting lessons, creating activities and preparing for everyday success became then a massive investment of time and energy. Without accounting for the fact that I still had to create tests and mark them!

In a 30 years long classroom journey I accumulated some knowledge, success stories and plenty of ideas to share. Then together with my Finnish partner we created the materials that I wish I would have had 20 years ago, except that then we were both busy creating it.

If you are looking to reach more students by providing material that can be differentiated according to students needs, rich with short films for students to study alone, interactive questions, opportunities for interdisciplinary lessons and differentiated assessment, you have to check Mathematics materials for Percents, Pre-Algebra, Algebra and Geometry for grades 7 to 10 are available to get you started on the path to save you planning time and help you to teach students and help them to succeed.