November 17, 2013

Keeping Things Fresh

After two years abroad I've returned to my old school. I'm sick of standardized tests and the horror that the IB program has apparently become. I'm back at a school were the average kid is below the national average in math. I'm back at a school that cares about kids and is more interested in producing good people than good test scores. It is a gift to have another chance at this school.

This time around I'm teaching Algebra 1, Geometry and Physics. The physics is old-hat, but the other two are new to me or at least mostly so. The newest of all is teaching such young students. I've generally taught 11th and 12th graders. So I'm having to retool a bit.

Our classes meet 4 days a week one of those being a 70 minute period. My approach will always be student centered even if it looks like "worksheets." It been going well, but I have come to dread my Wednesday's. I teach 3 of these long periods and its like pulling teeth to keep the kids focused. A colleague of mine mentioned pulling out one of Dan Meyer's 3 Act problems on the long periods and "who cares if it matches what going on the rest of the week."

This has always been my problem with Dan's problems. They're awesome, but how do they fit in? This year I find myself in a department struggling to find its identity and tempted to go old school "skill and drill."

So two weeks ago I decided to just try a problem. We had talked about exponents. So the Domino Problem seemed perfect.

After showing the intro video, the class looked at me like, "You kidding? You really want us to work on that." I stared back, "Uh, yeah."

5 minutes later the class was all over it. The results were amazing. Students were engaged and arguing over math. Perfection.

It went so well that the next week I pulled out another this time it was the Shipping Routes problem. The comments on the blog post seemed negative, but the idea seemed good to me, plus the math was approachable by my students.

Again the results were fantastic. And I'll admit when we did the times with decimals the whole class was stunned, myself included! Even better the one quiet girl who figured it out was beaming.

Selfishly these problems were great. They bought me SO MUCH capital in terms of classroom management. Each one of these problems took 40-50 minutes of class, but the next 20 minutes were some of the easiest I've ever had. Even the next day in class was easy. Not only were they easy for me the kids really learned something. AND. The kids were more productive the other days of week following the problems. So even if Dan's problems didn't move my curriculum forward, it and of themselves, they made my classes more efficient.

The lesson (re)learned was the need to change up class. To keep things fresh. What I was and am doing is good, but the students needed a change of pace.

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