Goals #sundayfunday

I’m participating in the #sundayfunday blogging initiative within the #MTBoS community.
More info here.  

1. Build a thinking classroom. 
This isn’t a new goal for me, but something I’m always trying to do better. In teacher’s college, I was introduced to the phrase “Explore First, Explain Later” in my Introduction to Biology Teaching class and this is something I try to incorporate into my math and science classes every single day. The concept is self-explanatory; students are given a chance to explore, investigate, and uncover ideas within a particular topic or concept prior to taking formalized notes. This teaching methodology is congruent to the constructivist theory of learning which states that “that learning is an active, contextualized process of constructing knowledge rather than acquiring it” (learningtheories.com). 

“Exploration” can take many forms; investigation, experiments, noticing and wondering… however, something I’m keen on devoting more time to in my planning and lessons is developing the question. Daniel T. Willingham writes about this in his book Why Don’t Students Like School, “Sometimes I think that we, as teachers, are so eager to get to the answers that we do not devote sufficient time to developing the question.” I’ve really been following Dan Meyer’s lead on how to do this; his blog post on “The Three Acts of a Mathematical Story” are a good place to start. 

Peter Liljedahl also hosts a free webinar on how to build a thinking classroom, available here


Visual summary of Peter Liljedahl’s research, as summarized in a sketch note by Laura Wheeler.
2.  Get students to talk more.
​It is so easy to just fall into a routine of lecturing/note-taking followed by independent (usually textbook) work, but I eventually want to create an environment in which students manage themselves. This begins by getting them to talk more, exchange ideas, and share what they already know. Some things I’m excited about trying in my classroom are Stand and Talks (Sara VDW), and talking points (adapted from Lyn Dawes). 

3. Do fewer things better.
When I first started my student teaching, it consumed my life. Go to school, plan for the next day, sleep, and repeat. I stopped exercising, watching TV, hanging out with my friends… and basically anything that was not work-related. I could’ve used an old lesson plan my associate teacher has taught before; I could’ve downloaded lesson resources online; or I could have picked one really good question and focus the class on that for the entire period. There were a million things I could have done better, but no. Instead, I scoured dozens of sites for lesson ideas, worksheets, and activities before creating my own unique cocktail using an amalgamation of the best ideas I had gathered. I made my own worksheets and presentations because I wanted things done in my own exact, particular way. Planning  a single lesson would take me hours – this is not sustainable!

I know better, so I’m going to do better this year. Angela Watson’s keynote presentation for the Build Math Minds Virtual Summit really helped me refocus and re-evaluate my priorities. I’m going to invest my energy in doing the stuff that matters, and NOT because:

  • Of peer pressure “Everyone else is doing it, so I’d better do too!” 
  • It’s tradition “We do this every year, so we must do it this year!”
  • It’s instagram-worthy “OMG this will look so cute when it’s done!”

Instead I’ll only commit my energy to doing something if:

  • It will help me help students engage and interact with the subject in a meaningful way 
  • I believe it is the best use of my students’ class time
  • It is something I am genuinely excited about trying in my classroom

Three things I’m going to start doing now to achieve this goal:

1) Manage my time by setting a timer for the tasks that need to get done, and stick to it. Whatever gets done during that time doesn’t have to be perfect or have beautiful fonts and layouts, it just needs to be good enough
2) Reduce my workload by only formally assessing student work if I believe it is a TRUE reflection of student learning. 
3) Increase efficiency by delegating tasks to students, like self-marking formative assessments.

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