I decided to give up a little more control and see if I could get more authenticity.
We began to work through our financial literacy unit and I reserved enough iPads for pairs of students to use for research. As we discussed education after high school I focused more on helping the students research more about what they think that they would like to do. They were really focused and took ownership of the assignment which was based on their individual ‘why’. After researching through interest surveys, job outlook and personality traits of their initial career choices I had a third that decided to change career choices. The students started off asking a great deal of questions to me instead of learning the answer themselves. I circulated the room and instead of answering questions the information that they could find by googling we were having great conversation as they voiced their findings. We discussed whether they should rent an apartment, stay home with their parents or stay on campus if given the choice. Instead of having twenty-seven students asking me the cost of each living arrangement option for their selected college, junior college, trade school or university they discussed with their paired student after researching on the iPad. We then put the iPads away and discussed their discoveries. There were students that never turned in their math homework because they deemed math too hard calculating their cost of education and comparing it to their annual and lifetime salaries. The conversation continued for days after researching as they were authentically owning the assignment and the fact that they had a choice and a voice. I even received a few parents messages wondering why their child was so interested in learning about their finances (many parents told their kids that it was none of their business. 🙂 ) They are too young to learn about it or are they?
I started by taking baby steps using my growth mindset and investing completely in the COVA model. Instead of keeping my iPads locked up in fear I started with a rotation to allow students to sign up to use the iPads. I made sure to clear each one before I turned it over to the student and I allowed them to choose whether or not they wanted to use the iPad when their name came up on the list. To my surprise, there were a fourth of my students that just wanted to read their chapter book during advisory instead. For the students that chose to use the iPads we discussed appropriate websites and uses for the technology when they checked it out.
As the iPads were returned I checked the opened windows and browser history and I noticed something very different than my fears. Many students chose to work on the Think Through Math website in order to get through more lessons and contribute their points to the class goal of a party. I posted stats and each of my periods were in competition so many students wanted to beat the other classes even if their own class wasn’t close to winning the website administered contest party prize. Fear was slowly fading and I began to release more of my control.
I have been able to create a low stakes island compared to my current school day environment. I am working in an after school enrichment/mentoring/tutorial program and many of these student are SpEd, ED, LD or at risk due to behavior issues at school.
I was given the opportunity to create my own course as long as I could show some alignment to the Texas testing standards. I chose to focus on Geometry and have a session called “Arts and Maths” (instead of arts and crafts 🙂 ) where we start with basic geometry skils such as identifying symetry and number of sides for 2-D figures then faces, edges and vertices for 3-d figures. I then allowed them to explored what they could do with the basic shapes (circle, square, triangle, rectangle) by chosing one to create a 2-d shape and discovering how to create a 3-d form of that very shape starting with the one that they chose. We have now transitioned to simply compounding shapes to create things (introducing them to architecture/engineering) but keeping allowing them to build whatever they liked initially from wooden blocks. The students are so used to being told exactly what to do as they prepare for STAAR testing that they wouldn’t start stacking a wooden block onto another until I told them what to build. They even asked for pictures or instructions. Their choice eventually came from me refusing to take it away. They experimented with things that didn’t look like what they thought that they should have built. I finally introduced different materials to use in addition to the wood blocks which included magna tiles, playstix, wedgits and a super architect builders set. They were allowed to choose which to material they wanted to build with and what to build. They finally begin to experiment on their own to create their own art (some practical use items and some not so much) each student was excited and proud about their individual accomplishment and even wanted to disassemble their masterpieces to create a new one.
After they took ownership of their projects I went to a student and gave her the book that came with the wedgits that had many ideas and she looked through it. I walked around and awarded true effort and spoke with the other individual students about their projects and every time I returned to her table she had a new creation. Each time I would ask her if it had come from the book since she had access to so many ideas now and she replied “I have my own ideas now so I don’t need that book anymore”. I was amazed at the change in ownership over the course of a twenty minute time period. I love COVA. 🙂 We have to actively practice and model the COVA method continuously as it works but takes time to break out of the regurgitation model which used to be the foundation of education. Wait time is invaluable if you can risk time being off the scoped calendar some then you will gain that timer back and some by the end of the year.
I realized that engaging students at the beginning of the class wasn’t enough. The entire lesson needed to have splashes of color more like an abstract not a color by number picture. Analogies that are relative to a student’s school day, social life, home life or even popular movies, television shows, songs and celebrities keep the students drawn into the material. I naturally insert my humor and quirky personality throughout the class period creating a different atmosphere within my room that encourages students to try which assists me in best helping them.
I love math and love winning over students who think that they hate it. Each class of each day is not guaranteed to run exactly the same way. I value wait time and I consider but don’t make excuses for individual student situation but I never lower my expectations. My strategies in the classroom are not always understood or supported by my administrative staff but I can see the successes even after struggles and failing forward. As I come up with abstract lessons I’d like to share them here in hopes of gaining feedback and/or inspiring others to leap off the pages in the textbook or worksheets.
I believe that if you make the learning relative and engaging then the students will take what they have learned and the passion to continue to do so with them when they leave.