September 29, 2011

Throwing Stones...

The day after getting totally riled up by Sal Khan  I feel frustrated with myself. I find that what I am doing in my IB classes looks more and more like lecturing. Why is this happening?

A little background: For my own organization I write up notes and post them on a website, I began doing this years ago in physics and got more intent on publishing my notes at the request of another teacher. A request that came in via email...

The other day I assigned some reading from my site. I did this simply because I couldn't figure out how to convene the information in a student-centered way. Judging from their understanding it seemed to work or at least no worse than if I had lectured. Judging from Google Analytics they spent about 13 minutes reading, which is considerably less time than if I'd tried to lecture.

I can make excuses; I am teaching 4 new classes at a new school in a new country, I can't seem to get a grasp on what my students understand or the class dynamics of having 5 students makes discussions almost impossible. This last excuse bothers me the most as it is a result of my school's desire to "track" students in math. But in the end my IB classrooms are not the dynamic interactive classrooms that I used to have or want to have.

On the flip-side. If having my students read was (relatively) successful does that mean that reading is a good option? If I can't, for whatever reason, find a better way to expose students to material than to lecture is reading then good teaching practice? 

So if I start to use this tool more and more then how different am I from Sal Khan? 

Sometimes I feel like I'm throwing stones in my own glass house. 

September 28, 2011

Sal Khan did not Invent the Personal Classroom

As he so often does, Dan Meyer got me curious with his latest post on Sal Khan. I wanted to see and hear Sal Khan for myself (again). Several quotes were troubling, one of them was regarding schools and teachers who have been using Khan Academy videos:
They [Teachers] took a fundamentally dehumanizing experience - 30 kids with their fingers on their lips, not allowed to interact with each other. A teacher, no matter how good, has to give this one size fits all lecture to 30 students - blank faces, slightly antagonistic - and now its a human experience. Now they are actually interacting with each other.
Taken from Sal Khan's TED Talk  (starting at roughly  7:00).

I take major issue with the implication that no matter how good a teacher is he or she must lecture to their students. Being good has nothing to do with it. Its a matter of philosophy and approach. Its a matter of implementing best practice, which should involve as little lecturing as possible. Lectures are dehumanizing when the target audience is 30. How much more so is a video that is targeted at thousands or millions? Where is the ability to adapt to student needs? Where is the ability for students to ask questions?

The Khan Academy might be an improvement over teachers who don't teach (they lecture), but lets not pretend that a 20 minute video has created a sense of humanity in the classroom. Lets not pretend that videos watched at home allow students to talk and work together in class. It is the teacher who must realize that their time spent with students is best spent actually talking with and listening to students not talking at students from the front of the room.

I am not of the opinion that Sal Khan has it all wrong, but I think his perspective is skewed. He sounds a bit like Al Gore claiming he invented the internet. Sal Khan did not invent or allow the creation of a personal classroom he created a set of (boring) videos.

September 22, 2011

Mutual Humanity in a Classroom

A week or two back, I made a few large mistakes when I was beyond tired. (A new school and new country will do that to you.) They weren't mistakes that I could easily recover from as they were in print and I was struggling to function let alone think clearly enough to wright the ship mid-class. My students were shocked that I admitted to a mistake! 20 minutes later I heard them talking in the halls that the other math teachers never admitted to mistakes...

Last time I checked students and teachers, even math teachers, are all human. To ignore our mutual humanity (I  have yet to fully understand what that means to me) and pretend somehow that I as a teacher am superior or significantly different is to lie to our students and will likely make our jobs in the classroom even harder.

Homework as Review?

This year I am exploring the idea of using true homework solely as a review tool. I feel strongly that typical homework is rarely useful and 80% of the time (or more) it falls into one of two major categories:

  • Student's know how to do it, so its boring, emphasizing that math is boring and repetitive. 
  • Or student's don't know how to do it, so they spend hours being frustrated, emphasizing that "they are not good at math" or that "math doesn't make sense." And often the next class period is spent "explaining" the homework.
Yet I do see the benefit of students "practicing" and working through problems on their own.

So what if homework was just a review tool? What if students were given a week (or more) to grasp material and work through their questions in class? What if homework was assigned only on content that is not currently being covered in class? 

To me this looks something like this:

Where each color represents a different topic or sub-topic. Week 1 in class is spent working of Topic A. Then Week 2's homework focuses on Topic A. Finally, during Week 3 there is some sort of quiz or assessment on the topic. 

Things I like about this:
  • Students are forced to work with a concept for a longer period of time, without giving up more class time.
  • Students are given time to struggle and learn with the support of their classmates and the teacher rather than trying to learn at home by themselves.
Things I don't like:
  • It doesn't begin to deal with the "boredom" factor. It might even emphasize it more...

September 15, 2011

The Moment

The moment students realize they can't just memorize their way through math class is a special moment. The moment students know that they need to "understand' not just remember is one of my favorite moments as a teacher. Today that moment occurred!

My IB Math kids just saw IB questions for the first time... They were almost annoyed that they needed to go look through past notes. Seeing problems that didn't scaffold the 3 steps to get to the answer. Seeing that they will need to THINK!