We abandoned regular classes this week for some exhilhausterating fieldwork, expedition kick-offs, project time, and group problem solving. I’ve also had some time spare moments to step back and think about how very differently my five sections are shaping up. With ~130 kids on my rosters, three different preps, and all five sections exhibiting unique dispositions, I’m occasionally wondering why I picked this year to learn to blog – but I’m trying to treat this just like a long-term grad school project that will make more sense with each little disparate morsel I throw in. Plus, it’s free, requires me to keep my day job, and I’m not asked to make multiple drafts. I just have to keep writing! That said, I would like to grow more thoughtful – and perhaps eventually useful to this community – as I work things out.
So: the first question that I’d like to ask myself is, What’s the most effective way to plan a math class?
The short answer is that you get to know the kids first. All those great ideas from the summer felt like such great ideas because they were pies in the sky. Now they’ve fallen to earth, mixed to the point indiscriminability, and they’re getting sticky. As the year progresses, it becomes important not to get stuck on any one idea, to balance flexibility and routine, and to create a place where kids learn as much as possible.
Every Fall, I relearn how little I actually have to produce to be a productive teacher. Here’s what I mean. The majority of my time should be spent setting goals for students, collecting resources, and reflecting (yes, I mean assessing, in the most real sense) on student work & learning. I’ve only recently understood that the true spirit of backward-planning/UbD is that I don’t even have to be sure how students are going to accomplish what I want them to accomplish. I just have to be certain that it’s worthwhile, and then I have to be willing to work to get them there. If I’ve set the right goals, it should be invigorating for both me and the students to figure out, together, how to do that work. If I make the collecting of resources my constant work, then (a) it doesn’t feel like work, and (b) I’m always building a cache of resources to draw from when I reflect on student learning. Oh, Beatriz loves finding patterns but really needs an opportunity to apply her informal skills, because she’s not really getting all that algebraic formality. I know! I’ll show her this wordless problem that I came upon while surfing the blogs last week. Let’s see what happens when I do! Ideally the cycle continues, and ideally as a teacher I’m so fluent in problem situations and metaphors that I can pull a mini-lesson out of my head as I realize that the kids will benefit most from it.
By the way, this to me is the real benefit of SBG. If we thoughtfully write and rubricize student learning targets such that they’re guiding kids toward a worthy goal, and if we fall in love with gathering piles of problems and questions that will get them there, then day to day lessons become conversations that make themselves. I have a field notebook that holds my lesson plans in the form of daily agendas. I write these in my little book, I post them in class each day, but the minute-to-minute is dictated by where the ideas take us and where we actually need to go.
All of that said, now I’m experimenting. For my Advanced Algebra classes, I’m experimenting by replacing mathematical “units” with “investigations” that require us to use mathematical skills. These classes are full of typically curious kids who haven’t always had success in the math classroom. So here’s what I’m giving them:
They’ve seen a clip of Senator Voinovich making his points on Fox News. They’ve calculated how many jobs a 10 cent increase in the gas tax would create, based on the Senator’s figures. I have no idea if this is going to work, I don’t really know exactly what I’m going to do for the next two weeks of class. I have a great many resources to show them. I want, and I think they can achieve, mastery of each of the learning targets. I have a list of words I’d like them to know and be able to use. I’ve got some questions I’d like to ask, and I’ll think of more. I won’t know what precisely is going to happen in class until halfway through class tomorrow.
Note to readers – if indeed you’ve happened upon this new little blog – please offer feedback! I’m hoping to develop this as a place to fail mightily, to receive all sorts of advice, etc. So if you’re thinking something, I’d love for you to let me know what you think.