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.
Each school year just about everything changes except the way that we approach it. I love the idea of a fresh start for each student (each day) and a great deal of the material should be presented daily to each fresh started student.
I feel that math hasn’t changed so much over the last decade that we have to confuse students and push parent help away. The idea of “my way” that tends to be standard reasoning to enforce memorization is frustrating to me. On one hand we stand to embrace uniqueness to assist with social bullying problems but then we demand that everyone solve math problems the same exact way for fear of failure. This is where the importance of the growth mindset becomes the catalyst for change and helps the COVA method to become more widely excepted.
I believe is trying to solve the problem from outside of the box but not in a scripted or practiced way. I tend to use analogies and many real life references to not only engage my students but help them to see how and why each concept is worth trying to learning.
Over the years, it became very clear that this question was ineffective. Wait time is very important and many teachers provide just enough time to avoid many wrong answers. Instead of listening and guiding the students to the answer collaboratively the class must go on based on the curriculum timeline of mostly “one and done” lessons. Many students do not know what to ask or are usually terrified to appear “dumb” by asking “stupid” questions in front of their peers. When the issue is pushed and students are asked what they don’t understand the general response is “everything”. I learned after a few years that I needed to think of another way to get more feedback and spark a little conversation about the topic.
Many students come to me from teachers that simply asked for questions (or asked them questions then singled them out for not knowing) so I decided to try a thumb system. Students would give me a thumb up for their perception of full understanding, a side thumbs for a so-so perception of understanding and a thumb down for no perceived understanding (clarification was given as students that were not focused at all could not just give a thumb down). This system worked a great deal more than simply asking for any questions as I would at least get more students that were lot to give the side thumb and I would be able to better target my remediation process. I always explained that if all students just decided to give a thumbs up then clearly we are ready to assess and move on. I discussed the importance of the students giving honest responses and not having my students go into bobble head mode give lots of agreeing heads shakes with no meaning. (Per my personality, I insert humor and analogies with students daily) I have used this system successfully for about the last five years.
In the middle of this school year (and in the middle of a class) I saw and felt the death of the thumb strategy. It seemed to be losing its effectiveness for student feedback and discussion. So, in that moment I just thought about what the students could use to better voice their perception of the material but not feel singled out as it was relative to their population. Just like that I changed the system and the classroom response and effectiveness greatly improved again. Instead of thumbs we used the classic rock-paper-scissors challenge rules. I say “rock-paper-scissors” shoot! The students would play rock for perceived solid knowledge, paper for shaky perceived knowledge or scissors for perceived choppy knowledge. My 6th graders were excited to use the new system and I started to get valuable feedback so that I could hone in on my remediation even better. This quick relative thought on my toes saved my lesson that day and the students couldn’t wait to be asked for a response the days moving forward.
In every questioning system that I have used to spark discussion and thought, I model and remind the students that it is very unlikely to not understand anything that was discussed. For example, they know what numbers are and how to multiply, add, subtract and divide them but in an order of operations problem they could have simply missed one single step that led them to the incorrect answer. We spend time discussing the problem, their thought process and steps taken so they are able to pin point what happened that got them off track instead of immediately erasing the entire problem. Sometimes they need to start from scratch while other times they need to mend a small mistake or finish the process of the problem to reach the final answer.
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.