Thursday, October 22, 2015

Goals for the 2015-2016 School Year

As I approach my tenth year teaching at CDS, I've learned to be more realistic about my goals for the year.  And while some aspects of this job get easier each year, I think it's important as a teacher to constantly try out new things in the classroom and spend time evaluating and reflecting on what's working well and what isn't.  For that reason, teaching 6th grade math and science is never "easy."  Additionally, groups of students have different personalities, and because of that, projects and activities that are successful one year may be a bust the next.  It's important to be responsive to your students and be able to "meet them where they're at."  My classes are constantly changing and evolving to fit the needs of the students I am teaching.  With that in mind, my goals for this year are as follows:

1.  Incorporate more "math play" into my math class.  

This summer I read Jo Boaler's book What's Math Got to Do With It, which I found highly influential.  One major takeaway from the book is that kids need to learn that numbers are fun and having the opportunity to play with numbers helps keep kids excited about math.  She has developed a website that provides weekly lessons and ideas.  I've already tried out a couple of the activities suggested, and they were very successful with my math kids.

2.  Provide more opportunities for "re-do"

We talk a lot about "growth mindset" at this school, but some if it is more talk than action.  In evaluating what I do in the classroom, I've realized my math and science classes, I should allow opportunities for re-do the same way that an English teacher might make suggestions on a paper and provide multiple opportunities for editing before receiving a final grade. I hope to find ways to make this possible in my classes in hopes that it will provide more opportunities for growth and learning.

3.  Post at least one blog/month

While I've always reflected mentally on things going on in the classroom, I'm excited about blogging about my experiences.  While I've never been much of a writer, I am looking forward to the challenge of stepping outside of my comfort zone in such a public way.

Monday, October 12, 2015

It's All Fun and Games

Students learn best when they are engaged and happy.  I have found in math class that one of the best ways to accomplish this is to incorporate games into our regular math routine.  A lot of good things happen when students are placed in a game situation.  Suddenly that math concept we have been learning is now being put into practice.  Students who wouldn't normally ask questions during class feel much more comfortable calling me over in their small groups to ask for clarification and even help.  And students hold each other accountable, making sure all players are performing calculations and applying concepts correctly.  I see students teaching other students how to do something, knowing that teaching someone else is one of the best ways to learn and to remember how to do something.

The competition also adds an element of interest to students.  I've read countless articles declaring that there is no place for that in math class, and that girls, in particular, suffer under a competitive situation.  Perhaps competition that is "mad math minute" style is detrimental, but I see only positive effects from this style of friendly competition.  Also, many of the games we play rely much more on chance rather than how quickly students perform, and I think that is key.  Under these conditions, girls love the competition as much as boys do, and everyone benefits.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

What is the Purpose of Education?

What is the purpose of education?  I've been an educator for over twenty years, and I continue to ask myself that question.  When I started my career as an educator at Furman University in the Biology Department, I felt certain I had a good understanding of what my purpose was.  I modeled myself after the many professors I had throughout my years at university and tried to emulate their goal of imparting knowledge to students in a lecture-style format.  While I prided myself on being able to explain complex metabolic pathways or complicated molecular concepts to students in a way that made sense to them, I now know that I wasn't really teaching students how to think.  I was merely an extension of the textbook.

Fast forward to the start of my career at Carolina Day School.  I knew that sixth grade would be a whole different ball game.  There was no way that eleven and twelve year-olds would be able to sit still and be lectured to for forty minutes at a time, and it dramatically shifted my approach to teaching. It is in this environment that I truly learned to teach.  It didn't take long to realize that students learn best when they are engaged, asking questions, and discovering things for themselves.

As educators we have accepted the idea that we are preparing children for jobs that don't even exist now.  Having "knowledge" is less important than being able to use that knowledge in a novel way.  I now believe that one who is truly educated is not only a person who has been exposed to a lot of different disciplines and content but a person who continues to ask questions, seeks new knowledge, and is willing to accept new ideas in the face of shifting evidence.  As I reflect on my teaching in this blog, I will continue to ask "What is the purpose of education?"  And in trying to answer that question, I will continue to evolve as a teacher.